Over the last 12 months, SIBT has been exploring its teaching and learning context. For background: our teaching team has strong discipline expertise and many years of teaching experience. The majority of our teachers are casual and have been with SIBT for many years. Many of them teach in a number of other universities or colleges and/or work in industry.
Our project specifically seeks to understand:
- How can we extend the value we offer our teachers? How can we strengthen our teaching community?
- What professional development for teachers has the greatest impact on our students’ learning experience?
- How can we add to the value offered already through Navitas Learning and Teaching – and ensure we don’t duplicate work that is already happening?
- What can we learn from teacher training and methodologies outside the Australian Higher Ed sector? Specifically, what can we learn from the intensive teacher development undertaken by many ELICOS teachers at the start of their careers? This focusses on student-centric approaches and multi-lingual contexts which appeared to us to have great relevance in our pathway environment.
- Will these approaches be relevant across our disciplines? Can we build a common language to discuss teaching and share best practice?
- Will our teachers be interested and embrace this type of development? Will they find it valuable and relevant?
- How can we best understand our (largely casual) teacher experience? How best can we engage busy teachers who work for us, but also often also work for other universities or colleges and/or industry?
- How might we begin to measure any of this?
We used our networks within Navitas and outside the organisation to identify expertise in teacher professional development and contacted Clare McGrath, an inspiring teacher and teacher trainer.
The first step was an invitation from the College Director to all the teachers, introducing Clare and the project, and offering all teachers the opportunity to opt in (or out). Clare would observe as many classes as possible, to understand our students and teachers at a level of depth, and use that insight to develop a professional development program. We had an extremely enthusiastic response from many teachers almost instantly. None of the teachers opted out, i.e. all were open to engagement and to being observed.
Three themes emerged from these observations, which formed the basis for the first workshops (workshop outlines below):
We asked Clare to design the workshops to be practical and experiential. Teachers experienced and practiced activities and techniques with Clare’s guidance, applied the learning by trialling the techniques with their own students, and collectively reflected on how these techniques improved the student experience.
Feedback from the teaching team has been extremely strong – many have commented that this professional development is the most useful they have experienced and that it has created the most reflection and change in their own teaching. The teaching skills and techniques used in English language teaching to create engaging and student-centric learning environments have absolutely applied within our Higher Education pathway context. They were applicable across all our discipline areas, though we believe we have more to explore around Engineering.
To gain engagement from a busy teaching team, SIBT experimented with running workshops during and between trimesters and at varying times of day to meet our teacher availability. All the materials are available online in the teachers’ area in Moodle.
We have much more to explore. We feel we have many answers to our questions above, but plenty more to learn. We are still experimenting with how best to engage our teaching team, for example, and how we might measure impact – though we have some ideas for both. We would love to hear from other colleges!
What is your experience of developing or participating in teacher professional development? What experiences do you have transforming classrooms from teacher-centred to student centred?
Activating students – Workshop 1
This workshop focused on unpacking a range of teaching techniques and design of tasks which can be used to build relationships with and between students, set the context of topics and materials, and activate and build on existing content knowledge and relevant terminology, in more student-centred ways. Some of the key takeaways were:
- Activating students early in the first few minutes has an effect on attention, attendance and acquisition.
- Connecting to students’ previous learning and experience enables faster and deeper learning.
- Exploiting different patterns of interaction other than ‘whole class’ has multiple benefits, not just for student engagement but also for the teacher’s ability to monitor and evaluate learning.
- Students really benefit from changes in the intensity of cognitive and physical activity.
Designing learning – Workshop 2
This workshop focused on fully exploiting resources and materials. Some of the key takeaways were:
- The tasks added to the lead-in before students work with any text – from articles to videos to graphs and equations and coding – result in deeper processing of and interest in these.
- Less is more, in that fewer of these texts can be used in more efficient ways, for greater effectiveness.
- Pair-checking before whole class feedback raises students’ confidence, encourages peer-teaching, and results in more targeted yet faster feedback.
- It takes time and practise for teachers to feel comfortable with silence, while students are thinking and undertaking tasks.
Learning from each other – Workshop 3
This workshop focused on the rich opportunity provided by peer observation, review and support. It looked at various options for observations of live and recorded lessons and lectures, the issues surrounding behaviour and communication in the processes before, during and after peer observation and a number of self-evaluation / reflection tools. From the workshop, participants were invited to schedule peer observations with their colleagues and provided with documents to guide the processes. Some of the key takeaways were:
- True peer observation is by colleagues, and is developmental not evaluative.
- This is a two-way street, providing support and sharing inspiration.
- Watching a class from another discipline is a good way to really put yourself in the students’ shoes.
- Seeing others dealing with the same problems you have is a relief and opens up interesting and rich conversations.
Feedback from the workshop
Ideas discussed and generated during these professional development activities have been implemented by many in their unit delivery. Teacher feedback has been extremely positive. Teachers reported that although they have been involved in many professional development activities provided by other institutes, they feel this series provided greater value. It “met the teachers where they were at” and was designed to draw out and value their skills and experiences but also enhance them with strategies for their specific teaching scenarios. The process included a cross fertilisation of ideas across disciplines that generated new ideas for all involved and sparked a curiosity felt by many teaching staff who previously hadn’t had a chance to connect on this level. The result has been a number of ongoing conversations about how these connections can continue to develop throughout 2019 and beyond.
Pictures from the workshops