“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”― Aristotle
When I first began teaching I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to teach. As I became immersed in professional development courses, advising students and teaching my own classes, my teaching philosophy has continuously morphed. The more I learn about teaching, the less I feel like I know.
OTPP (Online Teaching Preparation Program), at CSUCI is an intensive 6 week course for faculty about online teaching. Facilitating OTPP, not only morphed my teaching philosophy, it has transformed my definition of teaching. Previously, I understood “to teach” as “to explain or show how to do something.” Now, for me, “to teach” means “to guide.” Before facilitating OTPP, I did not really understand what facilitation meant. It was a very vague term and I defined it to myself as “The act of making the course understandable.” What I found instead, is that facilitation is providing guidance, feedback and knowledge. It is an ideal way to teach.
Be a Guide, Not a Sage
In higher education the typical modality of teaching is lecture. A lecture is a presentation of information and the expectation is that the audience listens and gains knowledge. This modality is passive and it places the lecturer on an unreachable pedestal where they are the keeper and sage of all knowledge on the topic at hand. The students are not as likely to engage among themselves or with the instructor. Much is lost here.
In contrast, facilitation is a process where students are provided “bite-sized” information and guided while they create, make decisions, analyze information, collaborate and solve problems. Feedback is given and students can improve on the skills and knowledge they have acquired. This modality generates an active learning session and places the instructor at a similar level to the students, as the students are expected to generate information. This modality requires vulnerability from both the instructor and the students; yet, everyone involved within the course is highly engaged.
One of the most powerful aspects of facilitation is the peer to peer engagement. When faculty are the students, each faculty brings their own teaching and learning experiences to the classroom. Discussion and collaborative activities become what the “lecture” was meant to be. Ideas, knowledge and passions are shared, disseminated, critiqued, analyzed and reformed. Importantly, there is a loss of control from the instructor. The instructor becomes more of a process manager by providing a framework and guidance, but the students are the ones to fill in the information and lead the discussions and activities.
Learn From Your Students
Learning from your students typically means taking feedback and making improvements within your course. When facilitating a course, the instructor does not lead the discussion and does not provide all of the knowledge. Therefore, the students often provide new ideas, information and resources. While teaching OTPP, I found myself adding information to my technology list and making copies of student submitted rubrics and assignments. There were so many great ideas that I gained out of facilitating the course, in many ways I felt like I was the student.
In a facilitated faculty course empathy can be gained from both the faculty students and the instructor. The amount of work required from the faculty taking OTPP was often overwhelming and stressful. The faculty taking the course were teaching full loads, writing grants, taking care of families and other obligations. Often, assignments were submitted very late at night or past deadlines. Often, the faculty would communicate with me about the struggles with technology, collaboration assignments or finding enough time in the day to complete assignments. Some of the most enduring comments I received from nearly every faculty in the course, is how much they have learned to truly empathize with their students and their struggles. Our undergraduate students also have families, other jobs and life obligations. In my previous teaching philosophy, I was much stricter about late assignments with undergraduate students. I always required a compelling reason with documentation of some sort. Now, I find myself being much more willing to accept late assignments. Especially, when I have not even started grading them. In all honesty, students need to learn discipline, but we as faculty have to understand that life happens too. Even if the reason is everything is too overwhelming right now and there is not enough hours in the day to complete everything. The whole point of our classes are to enable our students to have the skills, mindset and knowledge to be successful. I have learned to put myself in my students’ shoes a little better.
Facilitating a faculty course has been transformative to my teaching philosophy in general. I have changed my outlook and the way I teach even with undergraduate courses. It has been a rewarding experience and I highly recommend it.