Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Student Engagement and Teaching Like a Pirate

Greetings from UNSW Canberra, where Professor James Arvanitakis from University of Western Sydney is speaking on "Student Engagement and Teaching Like a Pirate". He has written an article on the same topic: "Kill your Powerpoints and teach like a pirate". Rather than studying pedagogy he teaches the way he would like to be treated as a student.

 Professor Arvanitakis, started with an amusing "Acropolis Now" style monologue about his experience as a new university student. The point of the story was how the fist year lectures shape the students university experience. His next point was about being a new lecturer who showed photos of pioneers of his disciple, which was dismissed by a student as "dead white guys".

Professor Arvanitakis asked how to connect with first year students: are they like we were as students, or is there experience different? For me this is not such as issue as I am a student, admittedly a postgraduate student, but nerveless I can relate first hand to the current student experience. 

Professor Arvanitakis claimed that elite Australian high schools teach the students to rote learn. I am not sure I believe this, bit if true then there is a problem for university students adapting to have to critically asses material. 

Continuing the theme of context,  Professor Arvanitakis asked the audience to draw a "mobile". I drew a "mobile sculpture" (sticks and strings hanging from a ceiling).  He pointed out that older persons would draw that and younger ones a mobile phone.

Professor Arvanitakis suggested that the role of the university is being challenged by companies and the Internet (to deal with that I set up my own company and put my own information in the Wikipedia). He said that students had an abundance of information and had the challenge of knowing what to read.

Professor Arvanitakis suggested that universities are strange places, with different culture and language. The challenge is therefore acculturation of the new students. It seems to me that universities do try very hard to introduce new students. This is even done for online students with introductory forums and course-like un-assesed forums.

Professor Arvanitakis told the anecdote of a student who's essay outline came back with a red line through it and "this is not an essay outline" written on it. The student wanted to quit university, but the professor suggested the student ask for more feedback. My response would be to withdraw from that subject and seek one with a competent teacher. I might also provide feedback to the university on their incompetent staff, but I have learned from bitter experience not to do that while still a student of that staff member.

Professor Arvanitakis suggested we could get our students to reflect on their own learning and teach each other. 

Professor Arvanitakis  explained his "out of office" auto email with twenty FAQs, including some not so serious ones. Some of the questions about when the student should turn up and what they should bring. It seems odd to me that an individual lecturer should have to do this, it should be something for the university. 

Professor Arvanitakis argued that teaching should be like modern TV series, with a "story arc" and that teaching should similarly have large themes. This would seems to be difficult to do in a university program composed of interchangeable "courses". This can be done within a course and, for example, I have students answer all weekly questions and assignments questions for "ICT Sustainability" about organisation. 

Professor Arvanitakis  showed a video "James Arvanitakis talks about race (Intro to Sociology)" as an example of an informally worded video for the students to watch before class. He also showed news footage to be discussed in class.After putting the topic in a contemporary context he can then discuss theory.


Professor Arvanitakis suggested keeping students active so they pay attention. He breaks lectures into twelve minute sections. This is much the same as conventional wisdom with learning videos (which are six to ten minutes).

While Professor Arvanitakis was entertaining and the tips he gave were very useful, there were techniques which university teachers should learn in their introductory teaching course. If there are university lecturers who do not know these things, they need to be trained properly. Attending a one off seminar is not a substitute for a course with structured content and assessment. It is hypocritical and counterproductive for university lecturers to insist that their students must attend class and do assessment to learn, but they say that they don't need to learn how to teach.

One issue which may come up is the expectations of new students who have already undertaken MOOCs and their expectations of university are based on that.