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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

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