All posts by Lauren Soluk

I am an Instructional Technologist at the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. There, I provide direct support to faculty for technology integration into their curriculum design. A recent graduate from McGill University, I hold a Masters of Arts in Education and Society, with a direct focus on Twitter and Education. Outside of work, my priorities consist of family, friends, food, and outside living - in that order! Twitter: @LaurenSoluk

Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or Foe?


I recently finished a book called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle (2011), a professor at MIT. The book discusses how social media and technology has infiltrated our lives and its visible effects on human connections. Turkle explains that ICTs – e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – are fundamentally changing human interactions; they change who we are.

As I read the book, I felt like I was reading my personal diary. I was the individual who, in her book, was constantly connected yet felt the need for more interaction. Turkle explains that through this technology, people present the best of themselves, an ideal; they can type, delete, and edit every interaction. She says, “Human relationships are supposed to be messy, but now they are edited and perfected.” When I thought about this, I thought about how this affects our learning environments for all students. How have these ICTs influenced our classrooms? Continue reading Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or Foe?

Teaching in Higher Ed 101 – A Reflection From a First-Time “Lecturer”


 

Last week, Chris Buddle wrote a blog post, Learning to Teach: 10 tips for Professors. As an educator and “new” lecturer, I wanted to take some time to reflect on his post and my experience. I’ve spent time in elementary schools teaching and now, I’m just about to fulfill the requirements for my Masters of Arts in Education degree. Given my experience with teaching, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my most recent teaching experience: lecturing for a 300 level course.

I have spent the greater portion of my education career training to be a teacher and in classrooms with students. I have worked with a range of students; I’ve seen the silly sides of grade one girls and boys, the keenness of grade fives students, the turbulent years of grade seven and the various skill levels of third and fourth year students. As a teacher, I’m a fan of integrating arts-based learning approaches into my teaching practice. I have a history of dressing up to portray different fictional characters and having my students participate in drama activities.

For years now I’ve worked as a teaching assistant at two universities, both in third and fourth year level courses. Most of the time I’ve led group discussion, attended classes and graded papers. While it has been rewarding, it’s also been difficult; the teacher in me was itching to stand up and lead the class. Fortunately, this past semester, I was given the opportunity to lead a lecture for a 300 level course. The lecture I led was about how to teach ethics education to elementary school students. To me, it was the perfect opportunity to gain experience as a university lecturer and blend my arts-based approach to teaching. So, how did it go?

Overall, I would say it went well – not awesome, not horrible. It was definitely a different experience than working with elementary school-aged children. I separated my lecture time into two distinct blocks. During the first half of the lecture, I had the students participate in tableau (drama) activities and showed them how drama could be used to teach ethics education. Initially there was some student resistance to participate in the activity, as no one wanted to volunteer. I know you’re thinking, “well no one wants to volunteer for a drama activity,” but if these students are going to be teachers, they need to know how to integrate different approaches into their teaching practice! Right away I could feel the difference between teaching elementary school and university students. As I looked out over the crowd, I felt that the students were somewhat jaded; they wanted me just to “give them the material” and sit there.

After the activities, which once they got going, went very well, I moved onto the “lecture.” This is where I struggled. When you “teach” in classrooms of 35 students who are eager to leave their seat and write on the chalkboard, they get to do most of the “teaching.” I view my role in a classroom as a learning facilitator, not a teacher. In the lecture setting, I struggled with the whole “lecturing” bit. I hated standing at the front of a classroom with a PowerPoint and telling students what they have to learn. This is not how I teach in an elementary classroom. My rule of thumb for teaching is I should never talk for more then 15 minutes (at a maximum!) and the rest of the hour time frame should be dedicated to learning activities. This philosophy was difficult to execute in a higher education setting, both because of my inexperience but also because I only had so much time to share the “important” information. I felt that I had to lecture! Looking back, I would have done things differently. I would have stuck to my guns and avoided “lecturing” for longer than 15 minutes.

So, what are my take away lessons from this teaching experience (and others)?

  • Plan ahead – but not too much. Chris mentioned that planning ahead can be tricky. I agree. Just for this one class, my plans changed constantly. Your lessons have to be tailored to the students’ needs.
  • DO over-prepare – for the class, that is! For any class, my philosophy is always to have more then less, especially if you are doing hands on activities. In my lecture, I knew that my drama activities could go either way, so I had to have extra material planned incase the lesson didn’t go as expected. Sometimes, students can work through activities much quicker then expected. This is where I would say…
  • Slow down – This is something Chris talked about, too. Sometimes teachers try to cover too much and are scrambling to get in material. It’s important that students have the opportunity to work through things, especially when we ask questions! My rule of thumb is count to 10 before I let someone answer a question. I want to give the students time to think without pressure. Remember: silence can be a good thing! It’s also important to slow students down, too. Sometimes they can work quickly through activities and end up missing the “important stuff.”
  • Get the students moving or actively involved – I know it can be difficult, but I believe it’s really important that lessons aren’t sterile. I’m not saying that every lesson has to be new and innovative, but try and aim for an “active” lesson every other lesson, or create a guideline that suits your students’ needs. This idea links with Chris’ notion of being innovative. In my lecture, once I got my students moving, they were laughing and there was definitely a lighter feel to the classroom.

And always, always, always…

  • Reflect – As teachers, reflection is essential for professional growth. We need to evaluate how things went, what strategies worked, and what didn’t. More often then not, you can get a sense of how your lecture went from the atmosphere in the class. For example, in my lecture, the drama activity went really well, but the lecture wasn’t awesome (I was nervous and went a little fast). Looking back, I would have structured my time differently. I would have followed my talking/activity rule. Instead of blocking time (i.e. drama and lecture), I would have integrated both components more efficiently.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that every teaching experience is a lesson. We are never going to be perfect teachers. Some lessons are going to be better than others, but it’s what we take away from our lessons that matter. All in all, I am forever grateful to have had this learning experience. It felt good to get back into the classroom and it has provided me with rich internal dialogue. I can honestly say that it has made me a better teacher.

The lost art of being selfish


By Lauren Soluk, graduate student in DISE, shares an opinion piece on life lessons as a graduate student.

Attending a new university, I was eager to involve myself in graduate university life. As my first semester progressed, I choose to take advantage of all the opportunities that presented themselves. Ambitious, like many other graduate students, I had difficulty saying ‘no’. Studying a full course load, working, maintaining familial and social relations, all while trying to remain mentally healthy, began to take its toll. How much can one person handle?

Being me, and like many other graduate students who don’t want to say ‘no’, I took on too much. Saying ‘yes’ to every job opportunity that came my way proved to be my demise, which I would experience later in summer. In the summer, I worked a full time day job part time, part time hours with university departments, provided childcare at night, and committed to other familial obligations. By July, I had reached the point of exhaustion, self-inflicted because of my inability to say ‘no’.

For the first time, I felt like I failed, especially when I knew I let down those who relied on me. For someone who wants nothing more then to succeed in life, that was a difficult experience to go through.

The other day, I noticed a professor had the sign “slow down” taped to his doorframe. When I commented on the sign, he directed me to a blog post he had written to explain the meaning of the words (his post can be found here). The moral of the story was simple, despite the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, we need to slow down and take time to appreciate our surroundings. We need to realize that work will always be there – something that many of us tend to forget.

When I lost my father two years ago, my life philosophy changed and I vowed to appreciate my life more and take time for those around me and myself. The hustle and bustle of graduate living seemed to take its toll on me as I soon forgot this mantra. This fact was recently pointed out to me when my significant other’s mother said, “Tell Lauren it’s okay if she can’t attend [Thanksgiving in Muskoka]. She has a tendency to overcommit herself!” I believe my summer experience with exhaustion, reading the slow down story, and recent reminder that I overcommit myself, inspired me to write this blog post and reconsider my actions.

Recently, for the first time, I was proud of myself. I had previously decided that I wanted to involve myself in yet another school activity but after careful consideration, I decided that I shouldn’t overcommit and extend myself. For the first time, I felt as if I put myself first. I was selfish!

As graduate students, we often forget that we are people first and graduate students second. Although it’s a competitive job market out there, it’s okay to say ‘no’. While some may read this and think, “No! You have to take every opportunity because it could lead to bigger and better opportunities,” I urge you to reconsider. I’m not suggesting that we should say ‘no’ all the time however, I am suggesting that we strive to strike a balance between the two. On that note, I want to end this post with one final thought: Whether you are a graduate student, a professional, or someone who is just busy, I want you to ask yourself, do you work to live or live to work?

The New Space Age


Google Office, Zurich, Switzerland (Doorly & Witthoft, 2012)

Lauren Soluk, graduate student in DISE , shares an opinion piece on the importance of designing institutional spaces that promote creativity.

Many of us have heard Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, Schools Kill Creativity (if you have not, I urge you to watch it here). He argues that schools are educating people out of their creativity capacities and as a student, I would agree with this statement. That said, I am not here to write about the perils of schools or how to fix them because that topic is much to extreme to cover in less then 500 words. Instead, I want to consider a small change in institutional design that might help to spark the creativity movement in higher education. Today, I am going to write about space.

In recent years, there has been a shift in learning pedagogy for teaching practices to follow student-centred, constructivist methods[1]. Constructivist methods, and more specifically, social constructivist methods advocate that knowledge is constructed through the active participation of individuals and crowds. If we compare what we know now about learning to our current institutional infrastructure, one is bound to recognize that they do not parallel each other. Institutional classrooms were, and many still are, built for passive learning in a lecture format. There needs to be a change.

Space can be created and manipulated to foster innovative and creating thinking. For example, consider Google’s office in Zurich, Switzerland (see image at left). Rather than having standard cubicles for their staff, Google has opted for a more creative “office.” While I recognize that it is nearly impossible to have a space similar to this one in a university setting, I urge institutional designers to use this image as a springboard for creative classroom and learning commons designs.

Long & Crawley[2] have offered an alternative design method to the traditional approach to space design. They have developed the CDIO process (conceive, design, implement, operate), in which the learning environment is not viewed as space that needs to be redesigned but rather a “product” which needs to be developed. Following this CDIO process, we can ask the questions, “What kind of a space will produce creative and innovate thinking? What kind of space will support social constructivist learning pedagogy?”

From the Institute of Design at Stanford University, Scott Doorley and Witthoft brought readers a book entitled, Make Space, which was designed to set the stage for creative collaboration. Doorly and Witthoft provide tools (e.g. furniture and wall designs), situations and scenarios that can inspire thinking, case study examples, and a design template for how to build collaborative environments[3]. They introduce readers to design concepts such as Cul-de-sacs (spots to gather, linger, and chat), the peanut gallery (where spectators can drop in and out without disturbing people), T-walls for writing, and foam cubes for sitting .All of these concepts combined, and others, can blend to form collaborative and innovate learning environments.

So, with all of this information on how space can inspire and foster creative and innovative thinking, it is time for institutions to step up and put student learning first; let us take a step towards re-designing institutional space that supports active, student-centred and constructivist learning pedagogy (and maybe even dispose of the dismal lecture hall, for good!).

 

For further reading:

Doorley, S. & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make space. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture and Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher. China:Abrams.

Moore, A.H., Watson, E. & Fowler, S.B (2007) Active learning and technology: Designing change for faculty, students and institutions.  EDUCAUSE Review, 42 (5), 42-61. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/active-learning-and-technology-designing-change-faculty-students-and-institutions

Lomas, C.P. & Johnson, C. (2005).  Design of the learning space: Learning design and Principles.  EDUCAUSE Review, 40 (4), 16-28. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0540.pdf.

Lippincott, J. K. (2009).  Learning spaces: Involving faculty to improve pedagogy. EDUCAUSE Review, 44 (2), 16-25. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0921.pdf.

Long, P. D., & Ehrmann, S. C. (2005). Future of the learning space, breaking out of the box. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(4), 42-58. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0542.pdf .

Wedge, C. & Kearns, T.D. (2005). Creation of the learning space: Catalysts for envisioning and navigating the design process. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(4), 32-38. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0541.pdf.

Brown, M. (2005).  Learning space design theory and practice. EDUCAUSE review, 40(4), 30. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0544.pdf.

Teaching and Learning Services. (2013). Teaching and learning spaces. Retrieved from http://www.mcgill.ca/tls/spaces.

 

References

 Doorley, S. & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make space. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Lomas, C.P. & Johnson, C. (2005).  Design of the learning space: Learning design and Principles.  EDUCAUSE Review, 40 (4), 16-28. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0540.pdf.

Long, P. D., & Ehrmann, S. C. (2005). Future of the learning space, breaking out of the box. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(4), 42-58. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0542.pdf.


[1] Long & Ehrmann, 2005.

[2] as cited in Lomas & Johnson, 2005, p. 20.

[3] Doorly & Witthoft, 2012