Seminar – Dune Scholar

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Category: Seminar

Embedding Employability into University Courses

Teaching Week session on “Embedding Employability in Our Classes”
University of Canterbury
June 9, 2016

This session was an enlightening experience, with four employers invited to share what they were looking for when they employed graduates. The four employers were Layton Matheson from Moore Stephens Markhams (Accounting), Chris McGuire from MWH Global (Engineering), Graeme Barber who is Principal at Woodend Primary School (Education), and Cam Murchison from Harvey Cameron (Marketing). It would have been nice to have women on the panel, but I understand that the organizers are limited to who responds to the invitation to present at these events.

Their general criticism of universities was that they are not producing enough qualified people, making employers have to look outside of New Zealand for talent. They asked how many teachers have spent any time in the last 12 months in the industry that they are preparing students to go into, and very few people raised their hands. They called for more connection and partnerships between teachers and industry, and reiterated that there is a disjunct between theory and practice, especially in relation to industries that are changing rapidly. They acknowledged that instructors can fall back on how they were taught (19th/20th-century style) and may find it distracting to concentrate on items beyond curriculum and research (the pressures of ranking may take precedence, for example). The example was given of AUT having industry involved in every course in a particular discipline to make sure the link stayed current.

When teachers in the audience raised the issue of a large majority of students not being motivated or having a wide variety of ability levels in a class, some panelists said that you have to teach at or near the pinnacle, not the lowest common denominator if you want to have students succeed. They believed the drive and motivation of some students might be able to positively influence the others who are not as motivated. They said there is a need to uncover passion in students, make analogies while teaching so they see the relevance, and try to connect their learning to things they already know.

There were several key skills that emerged throughout the four panelists’ answers to the questions about what they’re looking for, so I have reorganized what they mentioned into those areas for clarity. They all seemed to be in agreement for most of them, indicating that they are important across sectors.

Flexibility & Ability to work across disciplines

  • Be transformational, not traditional.
  • We can’t afford to hire many or any specialists, so each staff member needs to have flexibility.
  • 20% of skill sets are outdated in 18 months, so we can’t keep people who won’t adapt and upskill.
  • Get out of silo framework/methodology where you can’t cross over and mix ‘n’ match (ex. Moving between data analytics, website, and finance; or visual reality, coding, and data analytics).
  • Cross-discipline awareness – structural engineer needs to know about water, electrical engineering, etc.
  • Break down silos: in the working world we don’t work in disciplines; need more integrated projects.

Strong Drive/Motivation

  • We need HIGH level of competency, not basic. We invest a lot in the first year and need people who can contribute straightaway.
  • We look at academic transcripts and see if they show consistency and that person can meet deadlines, focus, and apply themselves.
  • Are you an ongoing learner? What are you currently reading? Do you have a context for the industry? Keep up-to-date?
  • Looking for a growth mindset and someone who embraces challenges (any step they take is a step toward mastery and success).
  • Looking for people who are curious beyond what’s in the curriculum and passionate.
  • Good attitude, can produce something unexpected, willing to go the extra mile.
  • They need to meet deadlines; not a 40-hour week, you have to meet your deliverables in certain industries.

Technology

  • IT has changed enormously over five years; people need to know how to work with software and in a cloud-based environment.
  • Excel and PowerPoint are must-haves and should be standard training.
  • University should be adopting technology faster; research environment should be ahead of industry (like 3-D modeling).

Communication & Teamwork/Interpersonal

  • Communication, written and verbal; Can they present well? Can they be professional?
  • Need a culture fit and ability to work with co-workers.
  • We work with people and need to like people and have a good personality (no more back-of-the-house engineers).
  • People are part of a company’s brand and people need to trust in them.
  • Team player, able to work with multicultural and multilingual groups.
  • Ability to manage others and be managed (not lacking discipline).
  • Empathy: Can you understand what drives other people? Can you see things from their perspective?

Problem-Solving

  • Able to navigate ‘fish hooks’ and figure things out for themselves (case study analysis and teaching can teach this).
  • There’s no checklist for some jobs; they need to problem-solve and see bigger picture.
  • How do you use your intelligence in a constructive way?
  • We’ll employ problem-solving ability over a straight A academic transcript.
  • Do they know what questions to be asking and can they use technology to solve problems?

Other

  • Attention to detail (errors cost us money and clients).
  • Project management should be a skill for all graduates, as well as terms involved.
  • Ability to use time management tools, handle deadlines, juggle tasks (use Evernote, for example).
  • Business acumen and professionalism (not a day at the beach).
  • Need to be able to sustain 2 hours of analysis, not be distracted by other things (Snapchat, etc.).

Innovative Pedagogies by Professor Peggy Ertmer

Increasing Teachers’ Capacity for Innovative Learning Pedagogies
By Professor Peggy A. Ertmer, Learning Design and Technology (Purdue University

Professor Peggy A. Ertmer gave a prestige lecture on April 27, 2016, at the University of Canterbury’s College of Education on innovative pedagogies, and I was pleased to attend and hear her reiterate several of the points I have been encountering in my research on changes in education. Here are some notes from her lecture (available online).

Professor Ertmer opened by explaining that her background was as a former primary school and special education teacher. She now looks at case-based and problem-based learning and Web 2.0 technologies. She said that New Zealand is currently interested in learning spaces and how they impact on learning. The Ministry of Education in 2015 stated that good spaces enable but do not guarantee good educational outcomes.

Fullan and Langworthy (2014) refer to the mindset of Deep Learning, “irresistibly engaging learning” and a “learning partnership between and among students and teachers”. Who wouldn’t want to have learning described as irresistibly engaging? But she said that changes must come in the context of Evolution not Revolution. It’s difficult and takes time. Teachers are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of changes required, even teachers who want to change. Those who don’t want to change are presumably even more overwhelmed. Ertmer emphasized that it is about baby steps and helping teachers develop teaching ‘moves’ that support inquiry-based learning. Speer (2008) looks at focusing professional development at the strategy level rather than the philosophical or belief level to increase effectiveness.

Example 1: Questioning Strategies looked at the different types of questions that teachers can ask and how they affect learning. Teachers’ questions serve as a model for students, so asking questions that are at higher levels on Bloom’s taxonomy can be an effective strategy for deepening learning. In a case study on middle school and digital literacy, 35 teachers were hired to serve as digital literacy coaches to improve the questioning/thinking skills of both teachers and students. It moves the classroom discourse away from IRE (initiate-respond-evaluate) pattern and teachers in positions of authority to more of a facilitative interaction. Higher-level questions tend to be more open (McNeill and Pimentel 2010).

Example 2: Impact of Question Prompts looked at question prompts in online discussion forums. Research shows the dominance (75-80%) of low-level discussion posts among students in online discussions. Her co-authored article “Designing effective question prompts to facilitate critical thinking in online discussions” (P. Ertmer, Sadaf, & D. Ertmer 2011) examined higher-level questions and responses and the need for additional coaching or scaffolding to support students’ thinking. It is not enough to put a higher-level question online and expect students to give higher-level answers.

Example 3: Being an Engaged Facilitator drew from her co-authored article “Facilitated vs. non-facilitated online case discussions” (Ertmer & Koehler 2015) and looked at the difference it can make when an online discussion is facilitated well. Yew & Schmidt (2012) support the idea that active facilitator participation supports deeper comprehension on the part of students. There is a need to ask probing questions, to clarify questions or misconceptions, and to prompt students to go beyond simple solutions and surface interpretations. Ertmer admitted that she sometimes assumes that everyone in a teaching role knows how to best facilitate discussions, but in reality they may lack these skills (whether that be new adjuncts who don’t have experience or seasoned teachers who do not believe it is necessary for them to monitor or interfere with online student discussions). But she has found that when discussion is facilitated in an intentional and active way, it occurs on a deeper level, is of higher quality, and includes more details.

There is another issue and that is that teachers have different ideas about what active facilitation looks like. She referenced Lewandowski et al. (2016) in “Posting with intentionality in online instruction”. When asked, teachers talked about logistics, that is, they mentioned lots of posts about due dates and reminders as connoting activity. However, it seems counter to the aim of education that the least frequent posts on the part of the teacher were about content. Teachers were varied in their participation as well, with some doing it based on a set quantity (ex. I will post twice a week or will respond once to every student) or other sometimes arbitrary measurement. Some of the strategies seemed to be more about creating a certain feel of online community, but were not necessarily deepening the learning.

Example 4: Types of Facilitation Prompts dealt with several different kinds of prompts that an instructor might use in an online discussion: logistical, process, subject matter, application, and affective. Ertmer only had a brief amount of time to go over these, and it would be worthwhile to look more in depth at when each type might be effective for increasing learning and engagement with the material. She discussed her co-authored digital tutorial (“Post with Intentionality: A tutorial for online instructors” openly available online) to support intentional use of specific discussion prompts by instructors. It was developed with Articulate Storyline and designed to be short and simple to increase uptake and use.

Her conclusion was that changing teachers’ practice is a slow process that depends on early small successes. She reminded us that her experiences have largely been in small sections with 15-20 students and might need adjusting for larger groups. When asked about the impact of the digital tutorial, she said that it was hard to measure beyond anecdotes, but some instructors said it was reinforcing what they already knew (so it is good they are picking up the information somewhere else previously). She said that online education is in the strategic plan for something around 70% of universities, so it makes sense to look at how instructors are teaching online and what they need to be prepared to translate activities to the digital sphere.

Thriving as an Academic seminar

“Thriving as an Academic” Seminar
By Professor William H. Starbuck (Visiting Erskine Fellow) and Emeritus Professor Bob Hamilton

Admittedly, I was skeptical about how much value I could obtain from a seminar for doctoral students by academics so far removed from my humanities discipline (Professors Starbuck and Hamilton are from business/management). And it was a large time commitment: eight weeks at three hours a week, plus reading and small group preparation work. However, it turned out to be an incredibly valuable experience learning about how ‘the other side’ thinks and operates, the ins and outs of academic life, and trends in publishing. We also were fortunate to have several guest teachers come in and share their tips on how to be an outstanding teacher with us. That in itself would have been worth the experience because so often you are thrown into teaching with little insight from those who are good at it. In addition to running the seminar itself, Starbuck and Hamilton provided us with a large number of articles on a variety of topics relevant to academia that will be useful references in future. Their writing exercise on introductions and conclusions will likely stay with most of us throughout our careers.

Above all though, the seminar managed to bring together a diverse group of postgraduate students from around the University of Canterbury. As often seems to be the case, it was largely international students who ended up taking advantage of the opportunity to join the seminar, and we will be the ones to benefit from the continuation of the group as a support network in the often isolating postgraduate environment. Starbuck and Hamilton discussed the power of groups that meet regularly to bounce ideas off each other and reiterated the importance of ‘nesting’ and supporting each other (see Schwab & Starbuck’s just-published article “Collegial ‘nests’ can foster critical thinking, innovative ideas, and scientific progress”). It was refreshing to see such prominent academics rejecting the silo mentality that often abounds in academia.

Changing Nature of Universities

Starbuck started off the seminar with an overview of the history of universities and how they have changed and adapted over time. What began as learning with a license from the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages turned into a 19th and 20th century emphasis on engineering, accounting, and economics, which replaced theology. In the post-WWII era, developed countries moved away from agriculture and manufacturing toward services and now the knowledge economy. Expertise has become valuable. The rise of business schools and rankings by various magazines has meant there is considerable pressure for universities to be at the top, because this helps drive money from donors and students who have choices on where to attend. Starbuck noted that despite all of the changes, there is still a lot of lethargy in academia. For example, it is in the best interest of an oboe teacher to keep on doing what they have been doing for another thirty years, even if the demand is reduced. Some of New Zealand’s challenges in regards to higher education are its reliance on agriculture (mining, sheep, etc.) instead of creativity and expertise (like Scandinavia) and its loss of the larger economy of the UK market after the UK joined the EU. I found this overview a helpful summary of some of the main factors in how institutions arrived at the point they are at today. It also made more sense of the obsession with ranking at this university. I had not encountered this phenomena at my previous universities, though I’m sure that has probably changed.

Publication and Promotion

Hamilton discussed the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), which is a relatively recent scheme in New Zealand to evaluate and grade research faculty in tertiary education. Insight into this aspect of academia was probably one of the most helpful aspects of the seminar, especially since pressure to publish and be evaluated is a worldwide issue in academia. However, it is particularly strenuous in New Zealand because each individual is graded, rather than a larger body like a department. Hamilton went over quality vs. quantity issues and the phenomena of journal rankings as well. Like anything, it comes down to balancing multiple factors.

Starbuck gave us some tips for writing for academic journals. His studies have shown that reviewers tend to be unreliable, so you cannot rely on them to judge (see “Issues and Trends in Publishing Behavioral Science: A Quarrelsome Crew Struggling with a Disintegrating Boat on a Stormy Sea”). One may like it and the other may not at all. One of the most important things is to make sure the introduction and conclusion entice readers and get across the important facts. I have been thinking a lot about this after realizing that we are quickly moving into a skim-culture, where everyone skims articles (newspaper, journal, or other types) or looks up keywords  rather than taking the time for sustained reading of the entire article. I have been relying on intros and conclusions more and more to get a sense of an article and whether or not to invest the time to read the main body. Starbuck advised us to assume the reader hasn’t read the whole paper when you write your conclusion, and ‘test the wrapping’ by giving someone else only the intro and conclusion to see if they can make sense of them. You can also make a slideshow, which will force you to consider the organization and order of the ideas. He touched on ‘to be’ verbs also, which are always a struggle in academic writing! I have been trying to avoid passive voice more consciously now. He gave a Microsoft Word trick that I hadn’t heard of before: set the options to check both Grammar & Style, because the default is Grammar only.

One of the sessions looked at changes in the publishing world. Starbuck sees this area as one of the fastest changing industries. The world is being flooded with citations, as each article has more citations, and Google Scholar is making it easier to find others’ work. There is a question about what will happen to journals with the rise of online databases like ResearchGate and Academia.edu. New journals have exploded in number, and some journals have no subscribers, relying on other mechanisms for getting their articles seen. Commercial publishers may shift to pricing based on usage and downloads, and this will mean more effects on the journals and what they publish. E-textbooks are increasing in popularity and some universities’ course fees now include access to online texts. The world of heavy textbooks that many of us grew up in may no longer be a reality soon. However, I have read that the death of print is actually over-hyped, and even young people have expressed a preference for hard-copy versions over electronic for a variety of reasons (see New York Times article “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print is Far From Dead”). This is heartening for those of us who enjoy real books! It will definitely be interesting to see how the struggle plays out in the years ahead.

It was helpful to go over ways to strategically position yourself amidst all of these changes, and remember some of the potential obstacles out there like discrimination and skepticism you will face by taking risks or being innovative. Starbuck reminded us that knowledge is a social construction, that you can create reality in a sense if you have something interesting that can get the attention of others. There is also value in teamwork – even if academics don’t always realize it – and top schools actually coordinate their MBA teaching rather than going at it alone.

Excellent Teaching

Several teachers generously gave their time to help us learn about their strategies for being excellent teachers.

Associate Professor Ekant Veer advised us to know the content as well as how to communicate, and to know our students. Find out what motivates them and communicate why things are the way they are so they understand what you’re trying to teach. He finds it helpful to debrief and reflect in order to always be improving. It is also good to not dwell on whether students like you or try to do everything they want, because they don’t necessarily know what they need to learn. If novelty gadgets won’t improve the learning experience, you don’t have to try to engage with them.

Professor Eric Pawson offered his perspective on teaching and recommended Ronald Barnett’s Being a University which includes the concept of an ECO university that sees itself as a series of relationships: Engage with students and the material, Challenge them to help them to have memorable experiences, Organize beforehand or students will catch you out. He reviewed the learning triangle that moves from ‘passive’ at the bottom to ‘active’ at the top. Lectures would be the most passive, with labs/tutorials more active, and teaching someone else in a group the most active. He then practiced what he preached by breaking us into small groups for a flipped classroom experience, where we had to come up with ideas for how we would teach 400 students at 100-level, 20 students at 200-level, and 40 students at 300-level. We came up with ideas for using Twitter, role-playing, walking around the classroom, sparking debate, running a photo competition, and avoiding common pitfalls of teaching like talking to yourself and interrupting students’ flow.

Dr. Sanna Malinen came in to talk about what works for her in teaching, and said it is okay to treat them like people and let them know you’re nervous if you are. She emphasized that being prepared, organized, and caring are the most important things you can do. She believes in a strength-based approach rather than trying to be something you’re not (like if you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny). A new idea for having a type of open office hour at one of the cafes on campus has turned out to be very successful and makes students feel like teachers care and are approachable. Hamilton and/or Starbuck added that giving out short student evaluations during the semester can give you the opportunity to change, rather than waiting until the course is over, and that you can invite your peers to watch you and point out ticks you may not know you have.

Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw detailed his philosophy on encouraging critical thinking and a passion for self-starter learning among his students. He has found that flexibility in regards to assessment deadlines can mean higher quality work and more engagement from students. Treating them like adults allows them to manage their own schedules and helps them develop time-management skills. He seems to also give more flexibility with their topics so they can choose things that interest them and hopefully be more likely to want to do further reading.

Writing Resource

An easy-to-understand resource that is helpful for brushing up on your writing is “Fussy Professor Starbuck’s Cookbook of Handy-Dandy Prescriptions for Ambitious Academic Authors” (available free online). I am trying to reform my use of ‘while’, but it might be too late for the rest of the world because now I see it used incorrectly everywhere! “The word while means during the time that or at the same time that. While does not mean whereas or even though” (Starbuck).

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