What I talk about when I talk about teaching

By Imma López Comment

Hello again!

Today I am going to summarise and reflect on the FIDU’s five-module theoretical contents that seemed most relevant with respect to my professional development and teaching practices. While I will admit that my involvement with this aspect of the course could have been greater, at least in terms of motivation (I find it very hard to learn just by reading online, so, albeit I was grateful for the short videos, mind maps, and questionnaires, following such lectures felt more like a chore than anything else), it is my opinion that I acquired a non-negligible amount of knowledge that will aid me in improving — or at least innovating in — my classes, which I will try to prove below.

1. Institutional Module

Given that the context of Pompeu Fabra University is not new to me, as I have been both a student and a teacher in it, the Institutional Module is perhaps the one that had the least to offer. Most of the matters it addressed had to do with principles, procedures, bodies, organisations and useful services for an optimal experience studying and teaching within the institution, such as Idiomes UPF, that is, the university’s language school; the Centre for Learning Innovation and Knowledge (CLIK) itself, which is precisely the one granting us the chance to take the FIDU course, besides contributing many other formative materials like free webinars; or La Factoria+, which provides both bibliographic and technological support (in fact, not long ago they helped me solve some doubts I had regarding intellectual property laws for data mining).

I think, nonetheless, that said module constitutes a much needed overview for newcomers, and I really enjoyed learning about the EDvolució project and the PlaCLIK initiative. I am even considering sending a proposal with my colleague Nico! It is undeniably positive to make this type of didactic tools, resources and incentives available to teachers, so that they maintain enthusiasm and creativity in the classroom. Especially when the pandemic started and we had to switch to online teaching, I believe the CLIK made a big effort to accompany lecturers not so well acquainted with technology (both in terms of hardware and software) and its associated instruction methods during the transition. This module also encouraged me to try out Aula Global’s (Moodle) workshop component for the first time in a coevaluation activity that went really well, so thank you!

2. Learning and teaching in higher education

While I was equipped with a solid didactic training thanks to my master’s degree and was thus already familiar with some of the concepts and theoretical frameworks laid out in this module, such as the student-focused approach to teaching or Bloom’s taxonomy, my intellectual baggage did not revolve around higher education specifically. Therefore, I found this part of the course quite insightful, particularly as regards the distinction between competencies and learning outcomes, which, in spite of being notions present in almost every teaching plan, I had never seen formalised before.

Learn by doing

I do not recall being previously exposed to Marton’s surface and deep approach terminology either, although the dichotomy it represents had been brought to my attention multiple times. In the same vein, I absolutely loved Eric Mazur’s video — he is a great communicator who really manages to put into words a (not necessarily novice) teacher’s perplexity when things understandably do not go according to plan and/or their objective does not come across students as expected, while also providing practical advice to fix the problem.

However, the concept that I thought was the most useful is Bigg’s constructive alignment, because it helps systematise transversal coherence across the different dimensions of the teaching-learning process, something that I have been doing intuitively through the questions outlined in my previous post. On this subject, I intend to fully read Biggs and Tang’s Teaching for Quality Learning at University this summer (of course, there were many other interesting references listed in the literature review document, but I have to be realistic with the time I have left to spare for this matter).

3. Teaching methods in seminars, workshops, and master classes

Since I was originally a foreign language teacher — a domain wherein current trends advocate for communicative, task-based approaches — the method I was the least familiar with was the expositive one, characteristic of master classes. This is the one I was taught with throughout my bachelor’s degree, and I did not think the lessons were boring at all, for my professors were all very interesting and well-versed people. Nonetheless, I personally do not favour adopting this method, although I have had to in the past: more than anything, I struggle with telling anecdotes and being one-sidedly fun and charismatic.

I believe, however, that no method can stand on its own and usually a lesson combines some or all of them to a certain extent. For instance, whilst the expositive method is useful to convey factual knowledge, the demonstrative one is essential to contextualise and give examples that help clarify what has been said or needs to be done, and I do not completely agree with the assumption that it is based on “the idea that what the teacher does is perfect and the only way to act”, as long as the instructor does not explicitly say so.

Likewise, the interrogative method is paramount to guide students, involve them in the content of the lesson and activate their understanding, whereas the meaningful discovery-based approach is needed for the practical facet of a class. Balancing out the student’s cognitive workload as well as the classroom procedures put into practice is also required to offer variation and increase overall motivation. By way of illustration, devising a project from scratch, even when provided with guidelines, can be gruelling and time-consuming both for the teacher (who has to show the way and correct) and the pupil, to the point where sometimes the learning advantages of these tasks can be eroded by extenuation.


4. Evaluating what we teach: assessment methods and tools

While I previously discussed the topic of assessment in great detail, I found this module to be a considerably helpful refresher and also very well interconnected with all the others, retrieving concepts like the different order thinking skills from Bloom’s taxonomy or the several questions one must bear in mind when designing an evaluation system (refer to the following subsection). Furthermore, its contents also included a very useful specification table to design tests that was new to me, for I have only experimented with the creation of reading comprehension multiple choice tasks for language learners thus far (as a teacher, I prefer assignments over examinations).

Another notion that I did not know about and I thought was very interesting are two-stage exams, that is, summative assessment tools that combine individual and teamwork performance measures. I would really like to try this format, because I believe it closely reflects abilities required for real life situations in the private sector, where one must of course be able to complete tasks on their own, but also with other people. As for the formative assessment tools tackled in the module, I myself have employed rubrics to grade papers in the subject Spanish Language (25285) and learning portfolios in both the Spanish Language Seminar (20194) and the Oral Expression in Spanish Workshop (55032 and 55035) courses, and I can validate their reliability.

5. Course plan design

I deem this module the one I needed the most, because I had to design a syllabus from scratch last year for the Spanish Language Seminar (20194) subject and, while I consider that it was quite well thought in terms of progression, teaching methods and dynamics, it resulted in an excessive workload for my students. My lack of experience made me overlook some of the relevant questions that one needs to address when planning a course (Who?, what?, when?, why?, how?, with what?): more specifically, I did not balance the pupils’ free time, their mental state on account of the pandemic, nor their implication and willingness to learn the content (it was an optional class). Therefore, those students that were keen on the topic of SFL teaching really enjoyed the elective (especially because it included teaching an actual lesson), whereas the rest found it dreadful.

The aspects about this module that caught my attention the most were the the ANECA guidelines, of which I knew nothing at all, that promote, among other things, the incorporation of industry activities into the curriculum; the different ways in which content may be sequenced (linearly, cyclically, and modularly); and the clothesline method, whereby you visually materialise your course plan by setting up two extremes (the clothesline’s sticks), consisting of the students’ starting point and what you expect to be their arrival point by the end of the lessons, and then add or subtract steps (clothes) to make that transition possible. I think I may experiment with all of these in the upcoming academic year.

In conclusion

Even though I would much prefer face-to-face lessons, I believe that every online module had some valuable takeaways to either enhance my role as a university lecturer/my digital competence or simply learn more about UPF’s initiatives and services. I am very happy that beginners like me are given a hand to get started in a new, sometimes intimidating environment.

That is everything I had to say. Bye for now!

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