For the last 20+ years, I taught and facilitated courses at the elementary, high school, baccalaureate, magisterial and doctoral levels and forged my identity as a professor, both face-to-face and online.
14 Wonderful Years as a “Professeur d’Arts Plastiques” au CPF (Art Teacher)
My first teaching experience started in 1994. My Art professor offered me the position of her assistant in the Art courses she taught at one of the most prestigious high schools in Lebanon, where students had to prepare Art portfolios to present and defend as part of their French Baccalaureate exam. I spent a few years working with her in her classrooms, observing her strategies and trying to understand how she developed relationships of trust with her students. She believed that once students discovered their potential to be creative, they could use it to improve every aspect of their lives.
Gradually, I started teaching my own classes. As a novice teacher, with a BA in Interior Design, I felt more secure emulating her ways of teaching. Little did I know I started acquiring my own teaching experiences and developing my identity as an Art teacher. I experimented, asked questions to colleagues and to students, observed students’ reactions and performances, and pushed my boundaries to unleash my own creativity and design the best learning experiences to my students. I collaborated with language, history, math, theatre and physical activity teachers on several short or year-long projects that involved students from different courses and age groups. Our goal was to help students realize that all the course subjects were interrelated and the skills students were developing and the knowledge they were constructing individually or collaboratively were transferable and applicable in their everyday lives.
Teaching at UOIT
For four years, I facilitated two online courses at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in the BA in Educational Studies and Digital Technologies (ESTD) program, using the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach. I co-designed and co-developed these courses in 2013, with my doctoral supervisor Ann-Louise Davidson.
In the first course, Digital Technologies and Advanced Teaching Methods (AEDT2150), the students and I explored how we could design efficient and effective training material for a variety of groups of learners using models of teaching and learning and innovative digital technologies. In the second course, Digital Communication Technologies (AEDT1160), we explored how we could use digital communication technologies, with a focus on social media, to solve problems related to education, commerce, profession, and society.
In both courses, I presented the students with ill-defined situations from which problems could emerge and a multitude of solutions could be possible. As a facilitator of learning, together with my students, we analyzed the situations from different perspectives, identified the problems and reflected on the various strategies to solve them. Students started by recalling any prior knowledge they had that might be invested in solving the problems. Then, as a group, we determined the knowledge gap that they still needed to bridge in order to find solutions. Once this gap was identified, students acted as independent thinkers and engaged in the construction of the collective knowledge needed to solve the problems. This process of knowledge construction happened online through synchronous meetings on Adobe Connect and asynchronous discussions in our Facebook and linkedIn public groups,our and on Twitter using the hashtags allocated to these courses. Students also collaborated online using a variety of platforms such as Google Hangout, Google Doc, Skype, or other. I reviewed and modified the design of these courses every semester to better answer the needs of the learners. I also facilitated the Learning and Teaching Models course (EDUC4700) following the same approach.
AEDT1160 and AEDT2150 courses are required from students completing their BA in ESDT. They are also offered to students from other faculties as elective courses. Over the years, both courses were successful in attracting students from different disciplines such as commerce, business, marketing, nursing, computer engineering, criminology, etc. In 2013, a total of twenty students enrolled in each of these courses. In 2016, three sections opened for the summer semester and all the spots were taken in less than half an hour with thirty students in each section, for a total of ninety students per course. Students were sending me messages to be added to the waiting list, and many asked to attend the first sessions in case registered students dropped out. These courses are achieving a remarkable success and facilitating them has been an enlightening experience for me.
Teaching at Concordia University
During the Winter 2015 I taught the Human Performance Technology course at Concordia university after acting as the TA of the course for a couple of semesters. This experience, the feedback I received from the Ed Tech students, even months after the course have ended, the stories they shared with me about how they transferred what they have learned in my course to their new work positions, and my success as a facilitator of learning in the other courses I taught encourage me to apply to teach at EdTech.
For two years I held a Limited Term Appointment with the rank of an Assistant Professor at Concordia University in the Educational Technology program.
- ETEC 650/550: Fundamentals of Instructional Design
- ETEC 651/551: Fundamentals of HPT (Human Performance Technology)
- ETEC 681/581: Fundamentals of Distance Education
- ETEC 693/593: Consulting in Educational Technology
- ETEC 665/565: Intro to Digital Media in Education
- ETEC 662/562: Social Technologies and the Sociocultural Aspects of Learning
In the courses I taught, I prepared students to become instructional designers and performance consultants. I accompanied them through a wide range of projects in different contexts and work environments. They designed and produced material that can be used by learners and trainers, and can be developed by production teams, such as face-to-face workshops, workbooks, online synchronous and asynchronous training and mobile learning courses. Students prepared learning objectives and competencies. They also designed formative and summative strategies and instruments to evaluate learners and formative and summative strategies and instruments to evaluate learning programs.
For instance, in the Human Performance Technology course, students learn to identify performance problems in a systemic approach, write performance objectives and competencies, design instructional and non-instructional interventions, prepare usability tests, formative and summative instruments, produce detailed designs for mentorship programs, professional development materials, incentive programs, job aids, simulations, etc.
My Teaching Philosophy
First, students should be empowered. They should be in control of their learning experience and they need to recognize that their contribution matters. The learning experience I design for my students is far from the traditional experience most of them were trained to follow during their former schooling years. In my classes, students gradually realize that I rarely lecture. I am a member of their group, with specific expertise, and my role is to facilitate their learning and to help them reach the learning objectives determined by the program. I also help them become part of an ongoing community of active learners where all, myself included, benefit from what each of the members brings to the table. In the Educational Technology program, we have an amazingly rich opportunity to be immersed in a diverse environment that exposes us to different specialties and thus different experiences, background knowledge, perspectives and arguments. The students not only lead discussions during our synchronous meetings, they also moderate our discussions, and decide on the aspects of the suggested topics to discuss, the additional resources that could help us examine the topics in depth and engage in challenging each other’s ideas or support them using their own experiences.
Second, students should become problem-solvers. In the perspective that I adopt, students learn that in order to solve any performance problem, they need to examine the situation from a systematic and a systemic perspective. They identify the different sub-systems and the interactions between and within the sub-systems, recognize the bottlenecks in order to address them and identify the resources or the skills they would need to invest in order to solve the problems. For instance, the Digital Communication Technology course I taught at UOIT revolved around Mary’s hypothetical case. Mary was the director of a brick and mortar language school where the courses offered needed to become fully online. The students reflected on all the possible issues that could jeopardize Mary’s project. Students from the education field usually suggest to examine teachers’ need for training in the use of the technologies, teachers’ resistance to change, teachers’ fear of losing control, and more. Commerce, or business students propose to examine the budget involved, fund raising, the cost of the courses based on the required technologies and infrastructure. Students from marketing point out to the importance of promoting the new online courses and targeting the potential clientele using all possible strategies. IT students reflect on the infrastructure required for the use of the technologies, in addition to the support and the maintenance of both hardware and software. Student from criminology emphasize the importance of being aware of online security, cyberbullies, hackers, trolls, identity thieves and more. Students also discussed students’ accommodation, students training on the required platforms, students’ assistance, to only name a few. When all the aspects were presented, students self-enrolled in groups. I used to strongly encourage them to purposefully create diverse groups and we discussed thoroughly the value of diversity in a group. Each group chooses one problem to examine, and conducts a needs assessment including a description of the context, the learners, the gap analysis, the learning objectives, the evaluation instruments, and the potential solutions. To add a level of complexity and to reach the course’s overarching objective, the students’ proposed solutions involved the use of digital communication technologies. All groups shared their projects and receive peer feedback.
A similar experience was lived by students in the Fundamentals of Instructional Design course at in the Educational Technology program at Concordia University. The case we worked on involved the adoption of 3D printing in a CEGEP in Montreal. In this MA level course, students acted as instructional designers hired by the director of the educational institution to help teachers reach the following objective: Given the 3D printers and modelling software available to students, instructors will incorporate at least one activity in their classroom to enhance students’ learning experience and develop 21st century skills, using one of the 3D printer models.
Third, in this digital age, it has become increasingly essential for our students to be able to communicate and collaborate online using the digital technologies that are at their fingertips, including social media platforms. However, they also need to be able to stay safe online and recognize the rules, the regulations and the responsibilities attached to having an online presence. They should be able to engage in ongoing life-long learning activities and contribute to the collective knowledge through filtering the huge volume of information they receive, aggregating the most relevant information and repurposing it to better serve their own learning and the learning of others. Accumulating extensive amounts of knowledge is no longer a necessity. Students should instead develop the necessary skills to find and access any needed knowledge to solve unfamiliar or unexpected key problems. This is the reason why students in my courses engage in group projects using online collaborative tools. They explore the affordances of social media platforms and critically compare and contrast them. They become part of learning communities and are encouraged to join others. I also encourage students to use social media to connect with experts from our field. In the Consulting in Educational Technology course that I taught during the summer 2018 semester, my students reached out to experts including Edouard Rotondo, Guy W. Wallace, Patti Shank, Dana Robinson, Sardek Love, Mark Britz, Marc Lalande, Chris Adams and discussed with them strategies to gradually become a consultant in the field of EdTech.
Fourth, giving formative feedback to our students is vital. As previously mentioned, I rarely lecture, however I “teach” using feedback. I developed this skill while working as a teaching assistant for several semesters for core courses at the MA level with my mentor Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson. In addition to evaluating her students’ work using a well-defined rubric, she always provides students with extensive formative feedback. This allows them to reflect on their work and improve their performance before the final submissions. She focuses more on the process that leads to writing the content of assignments then on the final product per se. Following her lead, and witnessing the effect of peer and professor formative feedbacks on students’ learning, I provide my students with substantive feedback on their projects. I do not impose answers. I highlight areas of success and ask for the rationale behind their arguments. I encourage them to engage in in-depth examination of their statements, using different perspectives. I point out unclear ideas, incomplete answers, or resources to consider. I challenge their construct systems and guide them through the process of considering a change through living new experiences. For instance, some students question the use of social media for learning. Based on their prior experiences, social media platforms are submerged with everyday personal stories shared by narcissistic individuals. Sharing with them academic articles or concrete examples of how social media is used in education rarely influences their convictions. However, once they start experimenting with social media, taking part in conversations and experiencing informal and incidental learning, many reflect on their positions and review their constructs.
Fifth, trends and emergent technologies are exciting, they should be explored boldly but followed with caution. As instructional designer, performance consultant and faculty member, I always advise my clients and students to stay updated on the latest trends and technologies, reflect on their applications, however, never follow them or propose them to clients solely for the sake of being “avant-gardist”. For instance, using augmented reality (AR) could be quite exciting both for designers and learners, however if we do not have the capabilities to design, develop and implement AR, we should not even consider it as an option. The trends we follow and the choices of technologies we make should be informed by the needs assessment we conduct. Similarly, the choice of learning theories and approaches to design learning experiences should ideally be justified by the data collected and analyzed in the needs assessment. Our priority and focus should be our learners’ needs, taking into consideration the project constraints. For instance, while I criticize behaviorist teaching approaches and I strongly advocate for constructivist, social constructivist and connectivist approaches, I include aspects from different learning theories in the design of the learning activities in the courses I teach. I make sure I target the diverse group of learners in my classrooms, especially when the only data I have access to about my learners comes from the administration office and the short survey I conduct before classes start. I do not let my biases or the constructivist paradigm I belong to dictate the design of my learners’ learning experiences (or at least I am conscious of my biases and I do my best to control them).
Sixth, we must prepare our educators to teach in an AI era. 1) Many educators will be teaching with AI, working with machines on a set of shared goals. This is why I strive to keep up with these rapid technological advancements. Some experts explain that the AI role in education will include: automated marking, identification of weaknesses in the classroom, computerized teaching assistant, tutoring and support outside the classroom, creation of customized learning programs, assess and recommend tailored learning solutions, streamline content development for educators. Many educators will find it challenging to learn about the technology, then learn how to create learning experiences with it, let alone to teach with it or through it. 2) We will be teaching students who live in an AI era and in an increasingly connected world. Our students will be expecting responsive, adaptive and personalized or tailored mobile learning, self-service or on-demand learning, micro-learning and experiential learning. 3) We will be teaching students who will need to work with machines and thrive in an AI era: With the rise of AI and of the digital world, workforces are evolving. They are more globally connected and more diverse than ever. The expected workforce will become “knowledge workers who focus on non-routine problem solving and creative thinking”.Our studentsneed to become problem solvers, critical thinkers, and highly creative. Our current workforce also will require re-training and training in adopting proactive approaches to lifelong learning.
The journey to becoming an online and offline professor who
- controls the urge to lecture,
- understands the value of tolerating the occasional awkward silent moment during classes,
- is confident enough to pass the control to students,
- admits when what is discussed is beyond her area of expertise and
- actually longs for learning from her students,
was definitely a challenging one.
When I was teaching Arts at the high school level, giving control to students was not an issue, actually it was key for their success. When I was offered to teach undergraduate and graduate students, I felt that knowledge transmission would be safer and would guarantee my students’ success. Being forced to design my courses in a problem-based learning approach and having the opportunity to work with my mentor Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson was key for the beginning of my transition. I must admit that it took me several semesters to really let go. I had to experiment, experience, evaluate and reflect. The more I facilitated these courses, the more I recognized the strength of allowing students to lead their learning experiences, which led me to reevaluate my role in these courses and to keep on improving it based on my students’ feedback.