Musings by people who think about educational psychology and the practice of instructional design
August 18, 2006
An essay by Frances Wong
(Doctor of Pharmacy Student and former teacher)
After being a student for more than 18 years and a high school teacher for 3 years, I learned to view the profession TEACHING as a student and as a teacher. It does not mean I am an expert in analyzing this profession perfectly. It simply means that I think about teaching from two angles due to the different roles I have.
It is easy to ask a student to give some descriptions of an excellent teacher. Depending on the age/maturity/education levels of the students, the answers can range from sense of humor and caring to mastery of knowledge in subject and organization. Students see how a teacher delivers the “knowledge” but seldom sees how a teacher prepares a lesson.
It is also easy to ask a teacher to give some descriptions of an excellent teacher. Depending on the age group/audiences’ education level/teaching subjects, the answers can range from well-prepared and detailed lesson plans to good communication skills and classroom management. Teachers also focus on the delivery method when presenting a lesson in a classroom but sometimes neglect what students really need in order to learn and how to truly evaluate and assess students’ learning.
An interesting collection of views on good teaching was presented by Ken Bain in the book: What the Best College Teachers Do. There were many great pedagogy methodologies that I strongly believe college educators can use to their benefits. However, Bain stresses the most important thing is not to focus on the methodologies; it is to look at the before, during and after of teaching so one can evaluate and enhance his/her teaching. A good educator starts by examining his/her teaching philosophy before the class even begins. A philosophy which bases teaching on helping students to make connections between new materials with one’s previous knowledge and not just focusing on the delivery. All teachers want to be good teachers, but it is how one perceives “teaching” and “learning” that structures the way they help their students to achieve the ultimate goal of the class – learning. With that in mind, a teacher then can go on to planning out how he/she wants to reach that goal. During the course teachers will encounter different “curve balls” in classes that require open-mindedness and adjustments which will allow students to maximize learning. Evaluation after the class then becomes the key to climbing up the ladder toward excellent teaching. To create a good learning environment, one needs to make the much needed preparation, lesson planning, and assessments while keeping both teachers and students in mind.
After examining “teaching” from different angles, I see that even though there are many differences between primary, secondary, and post-secondary/higher education teachers, one thing we all have in common is the power to shape and influence the minds of our future. This commonality is the most important reason that we need to have good teachers for all types of students in all parts of the world. As pharmacy educators, are you ready to take upon this challenge in being as good of a teacher as you can possibly be? Whenever you are ready, the students are waiting.
July 15, 2006
Learning to be an Expert
The implications are important because it means that expertise is acquired through purposeful activity - and it is not something that is innately inherent. Or is it? What do you think?
June 7, 2006
Paradox and Profound Truth
In his book "The Courage to Teach" by Parker Palmer devotes an entire chapter to exploring truth and the profound truths revealed by paradox. The world is full of paradoxes and it is often through the exploration of paradox that great scientific, philosophical, and mathematical achievements are made. And Dr. Palmer contends that each of us must explore our own personal paradoxes in order to reach a fuller, deeper understanding of ourselves.
May 7, 2006
Social Learning and the Diffusion of Knowledge
Albert Bandura is perhaps the best known for articulating social learning (or social cognition) theory. While behaviorism postulates that learners are shaped by consequences (e.g. rewards and punishments) and constructivism theorizes that learners "construct" meaning from their personal experiences as they relate to previous experiences, social learning theory states that learners are largely shaped by observing other people in a social context. No single theory can explain (exclusively) how we learn. Clearly behaviorist and constructivist strategies both work. But I am intrigued by the power that social learning can have in shaping professional norms of behavior.
I think it is vitally important to read widely outside one's own discipline (including fiction!) to develop a greater understanding of the world. It is usually through my readings of these "tangential" materials that I have made surprising discoveries that have furthered my understanding as a teacher and health care practitioner. This alone is a strong argument why all professionals should have a liberal education - not merely a technical education in their discipline ... but I digress. I recently subscribed to Scientific American and I stumbled across an intriguing article in the April 2006 issue about social learning among orangutans in
So - what are the implications of these findings for humans? Learning is a social (cultural) phenomena - and our collective intelligence sustains our development. The greatest achievements of mankind (as well as our tragic failures and exploitations) are not the result of a single great person or intellect – but rather the consequence of the cumulative knowledge perpetuated and expanded over time as well as the collective wisdom (or ignorance) of a particular society and culture. Great teachers know how to harness the power of social learning!
April 25, 2006
Books that Every Educator Should Read
I took this photograph recently in Rochefeller Center in New York City. Great architecture has always inspired me. On one level, the technical genious required to make these monumental structures is amazing. It requires a great deal of expertise to determine what is the best design and materials to withstand the slowly (and sometimes acutely) destructive elements of nature over years, decades, and even centuries. On another level, the artistic and creative genious that is required to make a functional structure into something that is aesthetically pleasing and evokes an emotional response is a gift. I think great teachers are like great architects. Creating great structures requires not only technical expertise but also a cultural sensitivity, an awareness of the surroundings, and an ability to visualize a potential that does not yet exist.
Every educator (who takes their vocation seriously) probably has two or three books that have shaped and inspired them as teachers. Here is a list of books that have influenced me the most over the past year:
What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain (Harvard University Press 2004). This short, inexpensive (less than $15 thru Amazon.com) and inspiring little book was a delight to read. While the book cover is a bit goofy, Bain takes a scholarly (but accessible) approach to the subject matter. The bottom line - the best colleges teachers know and love the subject matter they teach ... engage their students to think about the most relevant questions that matter ... and have confidence that their students can (and will) meet high standards.
The Courage to Teach. Exploring the Inner Landscape of A Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass 1998) is a book about the vulnerability of being a teacher and the importance of integrity and being whole. Great teaching is not achieved by employing superior pedagogical techniques but rather in developing self-awareness and connectedness to one's subject and students. My favorite chapter is entitled "Knowing in Community." Truth - according to Palmer - is a reality created by a dynamic web of communal relationships between "knowers." In the community of truth, there is no ultimate authority - but rather knowing, learning, and teaching is a dialogue among a community of people (knowers) who approach a common subject in a shared way (e.g. they communicate in a shared language, share rules of observation, and interpret information in a similar manner). It is only after we (teachers) abandon our need to be the ultimate authority that we can truly engage students to become members of the community of truth.
The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach by Lee S. Shulman (Jossey-Bass 2004) is collection of essays (as the title would imply) on a wide range of topics related to pedagogy. Dr. Shulman is currently the President of the Carnegie Foundation - a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of teaching - and previously a professor in psychology at Stanford University (1982-1996) and a professor in educational psychology and medical education at Michigan State University. These essays span his career. Again, the focus is not on technique but the art and craft of teaching.