The kind of teacher I want to be

Think outside the box

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” (Attributed to Albert. Einstein)

I have been blessed with great teachers throughout my life. Both my parents were teachers. At school I recall having wonderful mentors and when, I started to do research I met these people at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology that changed my life by showing me the wonders of using what I knew from school, to solve real scientific problems. Without noticing it, I started to learn through the Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach, that years later came to my aid at LiU.

As a PhD student, I also had a wonderful mentor. He didn’t pave my way and this made me grow as a researcher and as a teacher. During my PhD years, I had the opportunity to mentor several students. For this reason, after my PhD I was more prepared to become PhD supervisor myself.

Thanks to the pedagogical courses that I’ve attended, I gained consciousness about the kind of mentor I wanted to be or, even more important, about the kind of person I wanted my students to become? Now, I realize that thanks to the kindness and cleverness of my previous mentors I strive to be a kind and wise supervisor myself. I am mirroring them.

As individual supervisor, one important thing I’ve learned is that I will not be a better supervisor for solving all the problems myself (Thanks Tina Persson). On the contrary, paternalism will foster dependence rather than autonomy. I have the pleasure to be a co-supervisor of a PhD student who will defend her thesis today! In my relation with this student I tried to be supportive, both at the emotional and scientific levels. I preferred a Contractual Supervisory Style that provides high structure and support (Gatfield T, 2005). However, I was also aware of her evolution towards the end of her PhD journey. This process is compared to a ladder (Hessle S, 1987) where the PhD students need more structure and direction during the first steps and more independence towards the last steps. The climbing of this ladder as well as the PhD journey generates frustrations and we should be prepared to tackle those. However, a good PhD advisor should start encouraging autonomy and leadership from the beginning. Leadership and autonomy come with trust and open dialog between the student and the supervisor. Although, each student differs and we may need to be flexible, all will need emotional support.

As a teacher in Higher Education, one of my goals is to equip the students with the 21st Century Skills (Megan Y.C.A. Kek, 2015) that will make them attractive for the labor market. Next, I will explain these skills in the context of group supervision, during the Tumor Biology Course or Laboratories for medical students.

1-Problem solving

Encouraging to look at problems from different angles, asking questions, making them to understand that complex biological problems may have more than one solution. Make them figure out a problem, to distinguish what is relevant in research or in the clinical practice. When interpreting results make them see the different solutions. Allowing to understand that negative results may be possibilities and not only failures.

2-Network and Collaboration

Making them aware of the existence of personal learning networks (PLN). or connections with people sharing different expertise and common interests. This can be students from upper semesters at the same faculty or students elsewhere. Preparing them to take advantage of each other’s skills. Encouraging leadership by allowing them to try different roles inside a project, lab report or tutorial group. This can be done for face-to-face and for online groups, synchronously and asynchronously by using google+, chat platforms, mail, google docs, voice thread, padlet, etc.

3-Agility and adaptability

What happens when the results from the lab are not the expected ones? For example, when the cells that will be used in the lab contaminate or the precious sample is spilled? Or when the computer crashes in the middle of the presentation? Make them understand that unplanned things happen and they should cope with that.

4-Initiative and entrepreneurship

I would let them propose improvements for a course moment, design certain experiments by choosing between different reagents and assays. I will help them organize their ideas and put them into practice. I will give them the freedom of choice and the possibility to learn by trial and error. I will also show them when to stop and trying something new.

5-Effective oral and written communication

Through group presentations, encouraging the use of different digital and nondigital tools. Making them aware of the different learning styles in a target audience where some people will be more visual, additive, practical or a combination, needing thus different activities to engage their attention.

6-Assess and analyze information

By encouraging the critical review and peer-review. The sources of information have broadened with the technological explosion. Students scan the net looking for videos, blogs, Wikipedia post that deliver faster answers than the course literature. Also, the course literature may not be as updated as the online info. Therefore, it is important to let the students distinguish between factual information and opinion-based information. For example, to appreciate the difference in credibility between a meta-analysis incorporating results from 1000 articles and one article published in a journal of dubious reputation.

7-Curiosity and imagination

In order to make the students understand the importance of what they’ve learned, the Constructive Alignment (John Biggs) is a good method. Some medical students don’t understand the importance of learning the PCR technique at the lab since they claim that in the future they will not need this particular piece of knowledge during patient care and they will not engage in lab work.

During a course, I could explain that PCR is a renowned technique, used all over the world in the labs, not only for research purposes but also to find out patient conditions etc. However, I am not providing concrete examples of how a medical doctor will use this technique in his clinical practice. The Constructive Alignment is about that: aligning the Intended Outcomes of the course (PCR course) to the teaching practice and the assessment. During the laboratories, tutorial groups or seminars, for example, we can discuss examples from real life, construct scenarios where the students need to predict a patient’s condition by analyzing the results of a PCR reaction, or where the students need to understand the limitations of the technique to decide going for another method etc. The assessment is not intended for students to reproduce all theoretical content but to apply what they’ve learned to solve a clinical situation. Students can propose other tests, experimental design, make their hypothesis.

I can use the SOLO taxonomy (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) (John Biggs and Kevin Collis in 1982) to create an assessment that build levels of complexity and understanding.  For example, by paying attention to how the students answer the questions I will know about how much they understand and how far they’ve reached in the SOLO taxonomy. I need to design activities that help the students to learn progressively.

These are the levels of the SOLO taxonomy. Within parenthesis is a simplified name of the level and in black characteristic verbs.

1-pre-structural (No idea)

2-Unistructural (One idea: identify)

3-Multistructural (Several ideas: enumerate, describe)

4-Relational (Relate to something: analyze, apply, criticize, compare, explain causes)

5-Extended abstract (Apply to new domain: create, hypothesize, reflect)

The challenge is to take the students to level 5.

During these reflections I can see some advantages in being a researcher and educator trained in PBL: “Instead of seeing changes as something “done to us” we can take command of the changes by using the PBL approach to empower students and teachers and make them engage in productive way of learning” (Megan YCA Kek, 2015).

Higher education is undergoing important changes that requires new level of flexibility and skills among educators as well. The fast-technological development, student decentralization and inter-professional groups are posing new challenges to the teacher core. How can we meet the needs of the students and prepare them for the uncertainties of the future when we are not prepared ourselves?

Therefore, I am learning about Pedagogy based on Information Communication and Technology so called IKT-pedagogik in Swedish. Trying to acquire new digital skills, learning digital tools to apply in my courses, receiving training in online PBL and in online facilitation of inter-professional groups, updating my pedagogical knowledge, acquiring notions of online course and curriculum design, learning how to produce and use Open Educational Resources for my classes and most important the appreciating more openness, networking and collaboration. Now I am willing to continue with this practice as facilitator in future ONLs and to pass my knowledge forward. I would also apply my knowledge to blend some of my courses. However, I am very much aware that blended and online learning is not about replacing teachers with technology. It Is about reaching more students everywhere, supporting and motivating the class with technology, designing and using digital content, expanding the horizons of knowledge and increasing professional development.

Here, I found some examples to To teach with quality in blended environments, Diana Laurillard proposes to prepare a curriculum including these six learning types. She also provides practical examples taken from online (shown below) and traditional classes.

1-Acquisition: Learn from listening to lectures, podcast, demos, videos, reading a book

(Watching animations, videos, listening to podcasts, multimedia, digital resources)

2-Investigation: The learner compares the different sources, criticizes

(Using google Trends, for example, to compare data, Big Data analysis, Reviews on the net etc, polls to assess opinions and draw conclusions)

3-Discussion: Learner exposes ideas, challenges and is challenged by peers and teacher.

(Web conferences, google docs, chats, emails, twitter chats, synchronous and asynchronous online activities)

4-Practice: Learner does something to meet the task goal and uses the feedback from the teacher and class to improve the outcome in relation to the goals

(Models, simulations, microworlds, virtual labs, field trips)

5-Collaboration: Embraces mainly discussion, practice and production. The learner takes place in the building of knowledge.

(Building a common digital output)

6-Production: Teacher motivates the students to show what they’ve learned in the practice

(E-portfolio, visual CV, animations, model, educational resources, slideshows, digital stories, fotos, videos, blogs, homepages, youtube channel)


2 thoughts on “The kind of teacher I want to be

  1. Hi- thanks for a very comprehensive and inspiring blog post, your students must be very lucky! Curious if you have any more specific tips regarding Pedagogy based on Information Communication and Technology so called IKT-pedagogik in Swedish or on.line training in PBL and in online facilitation of inter-professional groups?


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