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.

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.

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 …

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 …

Skills of Teaching

When it comes to teaching we often make the simple mistake of reducing all that matters into one specific skill. For example, if someone is very good at explaining things we might say they were a good teacher. Likewise, empathy for students is often regarded as an essential quality for teachers. I like to talk in terms of ‘skills for teaching’. In the approach two points are emphasised  – firstly, teaching is multifaceted and involves clusters of abilities rather than one single isolated skill and secondly, when I say skills of teaching I do not put ‘the’ in front, in other words, I mean to say “here are some skills of teaching and there are likely many more”. However, the framework provided below is derived from a series of workshops developed by my colleague Dr Arlene Egan and I. We have used this framework to support improvement in college teachers and in our Post-Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching at NCI. We we have devised an activity for each of the skills involved. For example, we use an activity called ‘high five’ to support development of presentation skills. student-teachers are expected to make a presentation to their peers on a Read More …

Learning about Thinking from James Joyce

In my view one of the best ways to study learning and thinking is to look to literature and in this arena one figure stands out for the manner in which he conveys the human thought process in print. I am of course referring to James Joyce. In this short review I present some aspects of Joyce’s work from the perspective of insights on how we think and learn. My argument is that great literature resonates with our thought processes. In reading Joyce we are provided with a working model of the inner structures and mechanisms through which we experience the world. I approach this analysis from the perspective of the average reader rather than the rich practice of Joycean scholarship. As such, my remarks are confined to my own, somewhat surface, impressions and interpretations of the literature. Almost at every point in Joyce’s work there are many layers of meaning and great pleasure can be derived from reading and rereading the passages. My analysis is based around five short lessons: Lesson One The Inner Narrator Consider the opening lines from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Once upon a time and a very good time it was Read More …

The Wisdom of the Fox and the Hedgehog

There is much debate about the kind skills we require for success in the 21st Century. It can be argued that what we learn in school and college often falls short of what we need in everyday life. Employers look for more than academic achievement when considering who to take on – in many cases they seek evidence of a broader set of skills encompassing problem solving, creative thinking, social skills and ethical appreciation. Consider the ancient Greek parable by Archilochus that contrasts the skills of two familiar animals: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.”  I think this is a useful metaphor to help us appreciate the complexity of the mix of skills required for life in the 21st Century. A fox ranges over quite a wide territory and is regarded as generally clever because of its adaptability and capacity to get the most out of opportunities. The skills of the fox are driven by curiosity and a need to survive on meagre and unpredictable sources of food. The fox is a great generalist. The hedgehog has a great strategy for dealing with predators – it rolls itself in a ball and presents its large array Read More …