Friday, July 19, 2019

Teaching Computer Professionals to Teach with Educational Technology

For some years I have been considering the question of how to improve the quality of teaching at universities. One obvious way is to have academics who teach trained and qualified to do so. However, the business model of university is to attract students, and funding, based on the quality of their research. Students will select a university to study at based largely on a reputation which comes from research, even though this has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching. As a result, there is a strong incentive for universities to select and promote staff based on their research record.

Having recruited a staff member based on their research, it is very difficult to get them to study how to teach. The academic knows that they will be promoted based on the research they do. Regardless of the quality of education they provide, students will enroll. However, those same staff then have a frustrating time teaching students, because it is a skill they did not acquire during their undergraduate degree, where they learned the basics of their discipline, or in postgraduate studied, where they learned research techniques.

Universities offer academic staff short courses, and various fellowship schemes, in an attempt to improve the quality of education, and also to be seen to be doing something. However, this is frustrating for all concerned. I have been through many of these training courses and programs.

One solution I suggest is to incorporate training into degree education, before academics graduate, are appointed and become fixated on research. It can be argued that teaching is an integral part of any professional's job.

To make this training more relevant, it can be tailored to the needs and opportunities of the discipline. As an example, computer professionals can help provide education using computers and networks (so called Educational Technology, or EdTech).

Emphasizing the technical aspects of teaching will make the topic more palatable to computing students, and also make the topic more acceptable to those who approve degree courses. Such a course can make use of whatever short training courses, or work experience through tutoring, or edtech support work is available.

This approach could turn teacher training from something graduates are reluctant to do, even when they are paid to do it, into something students will pay for.

Previously I used this approach in a reflective learning module. Students were required to write a job application as a course assignment. While they were offered training materials, workshops and individual one-on-one help by a specialist careers unit of the university, they were reluctant to use these services. As a result they produced poor job applications. However, when the same materials, workshops and staff were integrated into the formal course, students engaged. The same approach should work for teaching and edtech.