College Teaching: How to let go of PowerPoint

It started as a means to an end. You wanted to do well in class but felt you couldn’t cope without additional support. “Don’t worry” you told yourself, “I can manage. I’ll just use a few. I’m not really dependent on them.” So you start with five, and then it becomes ten and before you know it your on 30 or more slides per class. Deep down you know you’re addicted.   College teachers – you may have PTS!  You may have full-blown PTS! Powerpoint Teaching Syndrome. Here are five indications to help your self-diagnosis of PTS: Preparation for each class is devoted exclusively to preparing powerpoint slides. You even say things like “that’s the first five lectures in the bag” as you complete the slide banks.You consider cancelling the class if the projector is broken or unavailable.You read all the text from each slide.Your rush through the last ten slides saying something like “I don’t have time to go through all of this so here are the slides”.Your students explain they won’t be in class next week but they will read the slides instead.You’re constantly asking other teachers for their slides.  If you answered ‘yes’ to more than one Read More …

New to college teaching – here are some tips to get you going.

Well done! You’ve been appointed to teach a college module and you’re really looking forward to the experience. You know your topic and whilst you’re very confident about your expertise in your subject or discipline, you’re a little more apprehensive about your ability to teach. Like many other competences, effective college teaching involves a mix of knowledge, skills and disposition. There is certainly a continuum between the novice teacher (albeit subject expert) and the more experienced and accomplished teacher. The good news is that you have a lot going for you from the start. Subject expertise is a necessary but not a sufficient qualification for good teaching. Your in-depth understanding of your topic is a stable foundation upon which to build your repertoire of abilities as a teacher. The first tip is really an imperative and it’s perfectively captured in the phrase “It’s not all about me”. Many novice teachers naturally focus on their own performance. They prepare meticulously for what they will cover in each lecture. They design an extensive bank of slides for each class and they organise tasks for the students to complete between each session. Sounds like ideal preparation! And yes, all teachers should be encouraged to Read More …

Away with the fairies

Our ancestors realised that we cannot explain everything. We see only part of the world and there is more beyond our reach. Long ago young people had much to learn, dangers to be avoided, knowledge and skills to be acquired and lessons on how to survive and succeed. Wisdom resided in the old people but there were no schools of colleges. Stories were the backbone of learning and an important means of preserving culture and tradition.

What makes a good teacher?

One of a series of questions to be explored at Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere open summer course National College of Ireland 26-30th of June 2017 eqfee.org ‘What makes a good teacher’ seems a simple question and you might expect a straight forward answer. However, the more you think about it the more you will realise that it is not so simple after all. NCI Staff at a Learning & Teaching Development Event For many years now, I have worked with students and teachers in different sectors and contexts. Over time we have developed an exercise to interrogate this question. The exercise is worthwhile for learning professionals everywhere. You can try this yourself. Start by thinking about your own experiences as a student and ask yourself who was the best teach er you ever had. Go on think about who that might be now…. Have you identified someone? Good! Let’s presume you can picture that person in your mind. Write down, or make a mental list, of the top qualities you associate with them. Keep that list handy and read on… OK, I’m going to have to introduce some theory before we proceed. Let’s assume the basic task of a Read More …

We Need New Stories in Education

The Seven Basic Plots is an interesting book by Christopher Booker, the main argument is clear from the title; we have a limited number of story lines and regardless of context or medium, we like the familiar, predictable and comforting. Fairytale, folklore, epic novels and modern film scripts all use variations of basic narrative structures; resilience in the face of onslaught, heroic journeys, monsters and dragons and of course, the struggles of good and evil. The argument is not unique, many thinkers have pointed to a form of collective intellectual comfort blanket. We welcome stories that reinforce pre-existing assumptions and avoid those that challenge our biased views and require re-jigging our model of the world. The ‘basic plots’ phenomenon is much in evidence when we talk about education. Whether it is media reporting, policy discourse or public commentary, we return time and again to the familiar blandness of the comfort blanket. I’m tired of hearing about the epic journey of the Leaving Certificate, I’m done with the struggles of the science and engineering to attract and charm the young people of today, I no longer need the wisdom of employers, I’m fed up with tales of cash strapped colleges, disgruntled Read More …

Comments on the ‘Action Plan for Education 2016 -2019’

The Government’s new Action Plan for Education is a very welcome document that contains clear aspirations and detailed actions to be achieved over time. The overall vision is that we (Ireland) become the best education and training system in Europe. This is excellent news and like many others who work in education, I think it is a highly commendable goal; it is realistic and achievable and the Action Plan is an important statement of intent. In that spirit I would like to make some suggestions and identify areas of improvement. This is not to overlook all of the good stuff and positive actions contained therein. Rather, it is to contribute to our thinking so we can achieve the goals to their fullest extent. In the preamble to the document the plan sets out what it means to be the ‘best in Europe’, it means: “Harnessing Education to break down barriers for groups at risk of exclusion; delivering a learning experience to highest international standards; equipping learners of all ages and capacities to participate and succeed in a changing world; and allowing Ireland to be a leader across a broad range of fields, scientific, cultural, enterprise and public service.” (Page 1) Read More …

Ready to Learn – Taking the First Step

Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon. Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan. ‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy. But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark. Susan explained that she has been thinking about Read More …

New to College Teaching

Today more than ever, students of all ages are attending college to achieve higher qualifications and fulfil their work and life goals. Colleges, such as NCI, continue to change and evolve in response to these needs. Yet despite numerous innovations in policy, infrastructure and technology there is still one simple truth that underpins our education system; it is that the quality of learning depends essentially on the quality of teaching.

Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere

‘Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere’ is a summer course over five days at National College of Ireland in association with Mercy College New York between the 26th – 30th  June 2017 . As the title suggests, the goal is to interrogate essential ideas that underpin our understanding and practice of what it means to teach and learn in the world of today. You can get further details at www.eqfee.org The programme is designed for qualified and aspiring learning professionals in areas such as early childhood education, schools, further education, college, university and adult learning settings. Through debate, discussion and critical dialogue, participants will explore issues such as the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the goals of lifelong learning, the qualities of teaching, and the relationship between democracy and education. These questions are relevant for teachers everywhere – regardless of country or context – all the more so for the changing times we live in. The history and evolution of Irish education, including the influence and involvement of religious institutions will also be explored. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions, compare systems and discuss alternatives throughout. As teachers everywhere, we have much in common and it is natural Read More …

Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …