For the last twenty years, I have taught and facilitated courses at the elementary, high school, B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. levels. The following pages outline the reflections that stem from my experience and the philosophy I developed while teaching in face-to-face and online contexts.
My first teaching experience started in 1994. My Art professor offered me to be her assistant in the 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. As I acquired my own teaching experiences, I started 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 authentic interdisciplinary 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 knowledge is intertwined and the skills students were developing and the competencies they were constructing individually or collaboratively were transferable and applicable in their everyday lives.
For the past three years, I have been facilitating 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 designed and developed these courses in 2013.
In the first course, Digital Technologies and Advanced Teaching Methods (AEDT2150), the students and I explore how we can 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 explore how we can use digital communication technologies, with a focus on social media, to solve problems related to education, commerce, profession, and society.
In both courses, I present the students with ill-defined situations from which problems can emerge. Student work is oriented around how they understand the problem and on the multitude of solutions they can find to bridge the gap between the problem scenario and the ideal scenario. In my role as facilitator, I scaffold the students in analyzing the situations from different perspectives, identifying the problems and reflecting on the various strategies to solve them. Students start by recalling prior knowledge they have that can be reinvested to solve problems. Then, as a group, we determine the knowledge gap that they still need to bridge in order to find solutions. Once this gap is identified, students act as independent thinkers and engage in the construction of the collective knowledge needed to solve the problems. This process of knowledge construction occurs online through synchronous meetings on Adobe Connect and asynchronous discussions in our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/505491579614493/), our LinkedIn group (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/5177897) , and on Twitter using the hashtags attributed to these courses. Students also collaborate online using a variety of platforms such as Google Hangout, Google Doc, Skype, or other. I have been reviewing and modifying the design of these courses to better answer the needs of the learners. I have also facilitated the Learning and Teaching Models course (EDUC4700) following the same approach.
Both AEDT1160 and AEDT2150 are required courses for students to complete 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 seats were taken in less than half an hour with thirty students in each section, for a total of ninety students. These courses have achieved a remarkable success and facilitating them has been an enlightening experience for me as I had to adapt and revise my approach to facilitating learning from small groups to larger groups.
In my view, 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 designed 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 soon 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. I also help them become part of an ongoing community of active learners where we benefit from what other members contribute. We have an amazingly rich opportunity to be in a diverse environment that exposes us to different specialties and thus different experiences, background knowledge, perspectives and arguments. The students lead discussions during our synchronous meetings, they moderate asynchronous discussions, and make decisions on the aspects of the suggested topics to discuss, the resources that inform the topics and engage in challenging each other’s ideas.
In the perspective that I have adopted, students become problem-solvers. They learn that in order to solve performance problems, 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 revolves around Mary’s hypothetical case. Mary is the director of a brick and mortar language school where the courses offered need to become fully online. The students reflect on the issues that can 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, fundraising possibilities, 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 various 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 discuss accommodations for special needs, students training on the required platforms, students’ assistance, to name a few. When all the aspects are presented, students self-enroll in groups. I strongly encourage them to purposefully create diverse groups and we discuss thoroughly the value of diversity in a group. Each group chooses one problem to examine and conducts a needs assessment which includes a description of the context, the learners, the gap analysis, the learning objectives and the evaluation instruments. They also discuss potential solutions. To add a level of complexity and to reach the course’s overarching objective, the students’ proposed solutions should involve the use of digital communication technologies. All groups share their projects and receive peer feedback and instructor feedback.
In my view, 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 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. Instead, students should develop the necessary skills to find and access required 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 a learning community and are encouraged to join others. Many of my students from previous semesters engage with current students in the current discussions inside our social media groups. Experts, faculty members, and students from different universities also join our discussions. I emphasize the idea of “once a member, always a member” to encourage the sustainability of the community of learners we collaboratively create with these courses. All members of this community are expected to contribute with resources they found, evaluate and determine their relevance to our discussions.
I would also like to stress the value of feedback. 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 Dr. Davidson’s lead, and witnessing the effect of peer feedback and professor formative feedbacks on students’ learning, I provide my students with substantive feedback on their projects. I do not impose answers. I highlight the area of success, then I question their arguments and encourage them to engage in in-depth examination of their statements, using different perspectives. I point out vague ideas, incomplete answers and resources to consider. I challenge their construct systems and guide them through the process of considering 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. Once they start experimenting in our social media groups, taking part in conversations and experiencing informal and incidental learning, many reflect on their positions and review their constructs.
The journey to becoming an online professor who 1) controls the urge to lecture, 2) understands the value of tolerating the occasional awkward silent moment during classes, 3) is confident enough to let students control their learning, 4) has the humility to admit that some topics discussed in class are beyond her area of expertise and 5) 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. It was a determining factor to 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, gain 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.
During the Fall 2016 semester I was part of the teaching team for the qualitative research course at the Ph.D. level, lead by the professor Davidson. This course was designed using a problem-based learning approach and each class ran for four and a half hours and consisted of a seminar period and a lab period. My role in the teaching team was to engage with students in the seminars and to facilitate the lab activities that we designed to allow student to have first-hand experiences with qualitative techniques and tools.
During the Winter 2015 I taught the Human Performance Technology course at Concordia University, after acting as TA for several semesters. This was a very rich and fulfilling experience. Most importantly, the feedback I received from the Ed Tech students, even months after the course had ended, and the stories they shared about how they transferred what they had learned in my course to their new positions is a testament to the value of accompanying students through rich and authentic experiences that prepare for the real-world.
The success I had so far as a course designer, an instructor and a facilitator gives me the assurance that I am ready to teach a variety of core and elective courses, including Learning Theories, Fundamentals of Instructional Design, Evaluation in Education and Training, Fundamentals of Human Performance Technology, Introduction to Educational Computing, Introduction to Digital Media, Designing and Developing Interactive Instruction, and Fundamentals of Distance Education and more.