Can we teach what we don’t know?

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EC&I 832 is very much about thinking through teaching new media and digital citizenship. For my final project I am looking at instructors and what their support needs are. One of my reasons is that it is pretty darn difficult to teach what we don’t know. We refer to instructors developing courses as “subject matter experts” for a reason, after all. Aside from all the issues around the place of teaching in universities, being a teacher (or instructor to differentiate from K-12 which is a whole other debate) means having some knowledge. Admittedly, there is value in learning with students. Actually, it is a fantastic thing to do. It reminds all of us what the process of learning is like, helps model learning for our students, helps build their confidence as they see themselves on the same path as their instructors. It can open up all sorts of interesting was of knowing and paths to learning that we might never use if we remain stuck in the usual patterns.

So how does my final project support that? Well, one aspect of digital citizenship that has been discussed frequently in higher ed for the past 5+ years is a digital portfolio. Recognizing that students do work during their university career and that they will, at some point, be seeking employment or applying for further education, the point is to build something that can showcase what they have learned which can then be used once they leave the institution (although not all options take that aspect into account). Not everyone is on board with this idea yet, but it is coming and some universities have implemented options for this like Mahara or even WordPress installations. It is worth understanding the value of giving students knowledge and control over their work, especially in ways that allow them to take it with them after they are done.

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Okay, so far none of this is too far outside the norm, even for instructors who are not big fans of technology themselves. Sure, students in this day and age might want to think about these things.

Wait. Who exactly is helping these students? Who is modelling how do to this? Who is crafting the assignments they might use?


Now we get into it. If we think it is a good idea for our students, then why is it not a good idea for their instructors? It can be all too easy to tell students one thing but do something completely different. Yes, it would be good to showcase your work. Yes, it would be good to have your own space on the web so that future employers can see what you have done, so you can track your own learning, so you can understand how you got where you are. But do I also need to do this? Should I also consider reflecting on my own learning? Could I or should I share work I have done? Do I want to take some ownership of my presence in a digital world? Moreover, to assume that every instructor will only ever be employed by a single institution is, I think, changing. Many choose to relocate if the culture is not a good fit. Others find somewhere that suits their goals better. Some relocate because of a spouse getting a job elsewhere. Some are seeking tenure and working as a sessional until that day. Others have multiple identities that intersect around their teaching and may need to think through how that all works.

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For those instructors already out there, experimenting, building their own examples, that is fantastic. They can already model work they are doing. I was a teaching assistant for a professor a number of years ago who encouraged students to check out his blog – Phil Harland. He has since gotten into podcasting. He also links to other sites that he has been involved in, including companion sites to books, online versions, or even virtual tours of archaeological museums. He shares his CV, publications, and even courses including course outlines and additional materials.

Not everyone wants that kind of presence or has an interest in doing podcasts. There is nothing wrong with that. We all have our different times and places on the digital continuum. This is only one example. But if we can see value for our students, perhaps we can find value for ourselves. Perhaps we can connect with our students in learning. We may be able to share pitfalls or concerns or questions about this part of our field when we engage in learning in this place as well as more traditional “locations” for learning and teaching and practicing. How do we assign a student to do work on a site we have never used? And if we see amazing work produced by a student, why couldn’t it influence how or where we ourselves do work?

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This is where it all comes together. Teaching, being professionals, learning, it can (and I would argue, should) be tied together. Without taking major leaps into the unknown, we can take steps. We can find ways to be digital that are meaningful to us and to our work. And hopefully to our students and colleagues also.

I’ve already started that, building my site as a portfolio that can also feed work into my job, inform my practice as an instructional designer, but also inform my practice as a teacher.

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