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Course redesign in teacher education: Look inwards, back and around as we look ahead April 22, 2013

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership, Engaging Learning Environments, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Dr Tina Lim

As we think, contemplate and discuss course redesign for 21st century teaching and learning, it is important that we look inward, look around as well as look back, even as we look ahead.

Firstly, at the very start of the journey, we should ask ourselves what our core beliefs about teaching and learning are.  Crucial questions to be answered are:

  • What do we value?
  • What do we believe about how people learn?
  • What do we need to do to improve our practice so that it more truly reflects our values and beliefs? (Atkin, 1996).

According to Atkin, our core values and beliefs will drive our practices (or at least they should).  Following from the question of “what are the core values and beliefs?” comes the question of “how in principle do you respond?” and then the question of “what practice is congruent with the principle and its underlying belief?”

For example, if we say we believe that meaningful learning occurs when students are allowed to confront real problems, make choices, and find solutions, then what we ought to do is to design learning environments which allow students to engage in authentic problem-solving experiences, nothing less (even if it means doing what we haven’t done before or don’t usually do, a.k.a. going outside our comfort zone – and yes, spell that as ploughing in more time and effort in redesigning our units, and possibly also when implementing it for the first time). 

Meanwhile, looking back and looking around means that we utilise research findings and/or best practices to inform our next practice.  It could be derived from our own past successful experience as an educator or learner, or from what we read or learn from others’ experiences or research through attending conferences and seminars.  Going through available online research findings and reports of best practices is a good way to obtain invaluable input on specific needs and interests.

Revisiting time-tested and research-informed principles of good teaching and learning would put us in good stead.  One such example is the set of seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education laid out by Chickering and Gamson (1987) namely:

(1) Encourage contacts between students and faculty;

(2) Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students;

(3) Use active learning techniques;

(4) Give prompt feedback;

(5) Emphasize time on task;

(6) Communicate high expectations; and

(7) Respect diverse talents and ways of learning. 

While the principles were written specifically for undergraduate education 25 years ago, it should still hold for current undergraduate education, and to a great extent, for postgraduate contexts as well. 

Then, there are the five fundamental principles of instruction developed Merrill (2002), which have been shown to promote learning:

(1) Task-oriented – Centre instruction on real-world problem solving;

(2) Activation – Activate learners’ existing knowledge as a foundation for new knowledge;

(3) Demonstration – Demonstrate new knowledge to learner in the context of real-world tasks or problems;

(4) Application – Engage learners in real-world tasks/problems and give feedback on and appropriate guidance throughout the process; and

(5) Integration – Encourage students to integrate new knowledge into their life through reflection, discussion, debate and/or presentation of new knowledge.

And of course, there are many others in the literature.  The main point is that as we embark on any course redesign, taking note of well-founded fundamental principles and embedding them in our next practices would surely be deemed a good step toward engaging students better.

Last but not least, even as it is now a common expectation that student teachers to do self-reflections through inquiry, it is timely that we too do the same.  What is the phrase commonly used? Ah yes, “walk the talk”. This is particularly important considering that we need to be able to show our student teachers that we do what we say and say what we do.  We too, need to look back on our own practices as we consider the next step forward.  Exemplary teaching-learning design, delivery, and assessment which are continually improved upon would speak volumes to our future teachers about the importance of self-reflection for self-improvement.

 References:   Atkin, J. (1996). From values and beliefs about learning to principles and practice. Retrieved from http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/Colleagues/files/links/ValuesBeliefs.pdf    Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Retrieved from https://scholar.vt.edu/access/content/user/adevans/Public/DVDPortfolio/Samples/samples/training/track_d/Introduction/Best%20Practices/Article%20-%207%20Principles%20of%20Good%20Practice%20in%20Undergrad%20Ed.pdf    Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research & Development, 50 (3), pp. 43-59. Retrieved from: https://www.indiana.edu/~tedfrick/aect2002/firstprinciplesbymerrill.pdf

Tina Lim is the Course Design Academic Program Manager in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

Children, Nature, and the Future of our Species April 8, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Education and the Environment, Social Ecology.
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From Stephen R. Kellert, Professor Emeritus, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who will be speaking at the 2013 UWS Social Ecology Symposium 18-19 April, 2013

The current trend toward an increasing disconnect of children from the natural world constitutes a profound threat to our future as a society and even as a species.  Recent data suggest children are engaged with electronic media (computers, television, games) on average 52 hours a week, while spending less than forty minutes outside. What is at stake here is not simply a dispensable recreational amenity, the chance for children to go outside and enjoy and learn about nature, or even fostering a conservation ethic and an attitude of good stewardship.  Far more, children’s healthy maturation and development is in jeopardy and, with it, the future of humanity.

The psychiatrist, Harold Searles, remarked long ago (1960:27): “The non-human environment, far from being of little or no account to human personality development, constitutes one of the most basically important ingredients of human psychological existence.” Theory and evidence increasingly suggest that people possess an inherent need to affiliate with nature (something we have called, biophilia) instrumental to human health, fitness and wellbeing, and this relationship is especially important during the formative years of childhood (Wilson, 1986; Kellert & Wilson, 1993; Kahn & Kellert, 2002; Louv, 2008; Kellert 2012; Children and Nature Network, 2012).

Yet, the importance of children’s contact with nature remains of marginal interest to most of the general public, policymakers, and educators. The assumption still prevails that progress and civilization is a consequence of our society’s ability to transform, separate from, and transcend the natural world. We have become increasingly blind to the reality that our species, like all species, evolved in a biological not an artificial or human created context, and that our physical, emotional and intellectual fitness continues to be reliant on a vast matrix of experiential ties to the natural world, especially during childhood.

Humanity is the product of its evolved relationship to nature, countless yesterdays of ongoing interaction and experience of the nonhuman environment. Our senses, our emotions, our intellect, even our spirit developed in close association with and in adaptive response to the natural world. Our physical and mental health, productivity, and wellbeing rely on myriad direct and indirect connections to nature, even as our world becomes increasingly fabricated and constructed. This dependence on nature has shaped and continues to shape our capacities to feel, reason, think, master complexity, discover, create, and be healthy. Whether we choose to be farmers or financiers, foresters or professors, labor with our bodies or toil with our minds, our safety, security, and survival remains contingent on the quality of our experience of the world beyond ourselves.

The sparse data available suggest our most cherished capacities – physical health, emotional attachment, self-concept, personal identity, critical thinking, problem solving – depend on myriad and irreplaceable experiences of nature, particularly during childhood. Despite our remarkable capacity for learning and creativity, we remain bound like all creatures by the constraints of our evolved biology in a natural not human created world. The extraordinary formative influence of nature deeply effects children’s health, fitness, and even moral and spiritual capacity. A child’s optimal development, the emergence of a secure and positive identity, the ability to think critically and resolve problems, and the creation of self-confidence and self-esteem are all an outgrowth of a vast web of interactions with the natural world.

Children experience nature in direct, indirect, and symbolic ways at home, at school, and at play. Nature is not just a place to visit outdoors in a park or forest, apart from everyday existence. It is also more than organized programs at school or at a nature center. Children also need unstructured and free play opportunities to experience nature in spontaneous and unsupervised contact in the realm of their everyday lives. Restoring children’s connection with nature is not just about enhanced intellectual understanding and outdoor exercise, but also about the experience of wonder, joy, exuberance, challenge, coping, awe, even dealing with fear and anxiety, all and more the basic stuff of normal development. Contact with nature is not just about direct physical contact with the outdoors, but also the representational experience of the natural world in pictures, stories, myth, legend, and design.

Even in the modern age, children’s contact with nature continues to be a vital and irreplaceable source of healthy maturation. The profound impoverishment in contemporary times of children’s contact with nature constitutes a threat to their physical and mental health and development. Intimating this possibility, the precipitous decline in children’s experience of the natural world in recent decades is correlated with alarming increases in rates of obesity, adult diabetes, myopia, attention deficit disorder, and autism among children. The crisis of deeply diminishing connections between children and nature may, in effect, be a threat to the future of humanity. The scale of the problem calls for bold steps and a deeper understanding of what is at stake. Some of this understanding can be found in a new book of mine, “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World” (Kellert 2012).

 

References:

Children and Nature Network. 2008.  Research and Studies, Volumes I-VI. www.childrenandnature.org.

Kahn, P. and S. Kellert, eds. 2002. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural,

and Evolutionary Investigations.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kellert, S. and E.O. Wilson, eds. 1993. The Biophilia Hypothesis.  Washington, DC: Island Press.

Kellert, S. 2012. Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. New Haven: Yale Press.

Louv, R. 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Press.

Searles, H. 1960. The Nonhuman Environment: In Normal Development and Schizophrenia. New York: International Universities Press.

Wilson, E.O. 1984. Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Professor Kellert will be speaking at the 2013 Social Ecology Symposium The Expanding Universe of Social Ecology to be held 18 – 19 April, 2013 at the University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury Campus

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