About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flipped classroom: Is it something for contingent faculty?

As my previous posts have discussed, I am part of a training project for the flipped classroom. As part of the training, my teaching was observed and the students filled out an evaluation (anonymously) on the class. In reviewing their comments and feedback, I began to think that perhaps I had made a mistake in being part of the project.

I currently am looking for a new job for next year. As part of the application process, most schools ask for teaching evaluations. However, I fear that the teaching evaluations for this class will be less than stellar due to the gap between student expectations as to what a good teacher is and the way it is defined by the flipped classroom. Even the questions on the evaluation (does instructor explain the concepts well) is geared towards evaluating the traditional classroom. In a flipped classroom, the instructor does not lecture which many students equate with "explain the concepts."

My Goals in the Flipped Classroom

I teach two different courses this semester. In all, I teach 5 courses regularly for the department. However, the one course I chose for the flipped classroom, group communication, has been plaguing me for the last 2 semesters. While the students enjoy the hands on classroom activities, many fail to make the connection between the readings I assign and the activities. As such, for this class, I wanted to create a greater link between the readings and the class activities.

Unlike many of the others in the project who were trying to loosen teacher control of student learning, I needed to tighten control (by making the link more obvious) while still allowing student direction for learning within the classroom. The first step was to rewrite my goals so they reflected the messiness of the course content while also indicating the importance to the students.

For example, I added the following goals to the course syllabus:

1)Challenge assumptions about effective group processes and communication

2) Apply communication skills (written, oral, and non-verbal) and processes in multiple real world group (especially small group) settings

3) Develop numerous communication strategies in order to participate and contribute to group processes and products in both professional and academic work environments

4) Understand and analyze basic communication research and studies. Learn to collect, analyze, and use communication data in order to thrive in difficult social environments, workplace group problem solving activities, and the participation of dysfunctional teams.

The next step was to create a mechanism that both motivated students to read and provided some framework for their learning. I did this by creating a question of the day. It turns out that my ineptitude in creating good multiple choice questions, actually was to my advantage in developing critical reading skills for my students. One reason I always gave essay questions was because my multiple choice questions often were too open for interpretation. However, these are exactly the type of questions that create good environments for discussion.

Difficulties for contingent faculty

These ambiguous questions of the day, however, are problematic for students that have been educated in the NCLB environment. They have been taught that there is only one answer and a set process. In addition, teachers in K-12 are assessed based on their ability to get their students to understand what the "correct" answer is.

In addition to students coming into class with assumptions about how they will be assessed, they make certain assumptions about the teacher based on their ability to "get the question right." In other words, if they get the question wrong, it is because they weren't taught or they didn't study. However, often the case is that there was a difference in interpretation of either the reading or the question. Students that can argue towards an answer other than the one I give, supporting it with information and evidence from class and the readings, demonstrate a deeper level of understanding to the material. Unfortunately, students interpret this is the "teacher doesn't know what she is doing" or "teacher is not teaching us." The students want a definitive final answer.

One of the other problems I have in this class is the use of team based learning at our university. Many of the students are part of teams in which faculty support learning and encourage support through team structure as part of the concepts of team based learning. However, my class is not based on team based learning even though there are group activities. In fact, my class is experiential which means I am hoping for conflict, social loafing, and groupthink so we can discuss these issues as it pertains to group communication. Students don't like these ambiguous learning environments and this can be reflected in course evaluations.

So, as the number of faculty who are contingent grows, new ways to teach and changing the skills that must be learned to something that is more challenging (such as critical thinking and problem solving skills) will be more difficult to implement, especially if we don't start creating new ways to measure teaching effectiveness. I have yet to see a job application that provides space for a digital portfolio of student work, faculty research, or blogs/social media. Teaching effectiveness for most colleges and universities are still student evaluations and supervisor observations (which can be difficult to obtain unless you take part in a pilot program). The only way to change the learning/teaching culture in universities is to change the way potential faculty are evaluated.

No comments: