Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Day of Spring

Forgive me if I reminisce on this first day of spring. It was actually in the middle of winter many years ago that my department chair and advisor asked me into his office.  He then proceeded to say that I would be teaching spring quarter a section of Educ 455, more commonly known as Introduction to Audio-Visual or at that time a more modern version called Introduction to Media Communications.  Today it would be a basic course in Instructional Technology.  But back then media was still a road bump in learning and teaching.  

He also informed me that the section that I would be teaching would have three different groups of students--about fifteen undergraduate students from the Forestry department.  They were there to learn how to communicate with the public in parks.  

Then there would be about twenty or so, perhaps a few more, of nursing students working on their masters degree.  They would have had a basic course in education (how to teach) and this one as their only courses in becoming teachers of nurses to be.  

The rest of my section would be education majors, mostly seniors and maybe several with masters returning to get certification.  He wasn't sure how many students in this pile, maybe eighteen.  This group would have had the necessary prerequisites for the course. 

"So fifty to sixty students who would meet on Thursdays at four in the afternoon to seven at night.  Let me know how it turns out."  

To somewhat complicate all this, I had only taught this course maybe three times in my life--I was a graduate assistant in my throes of learning how to teach technology to adults .  Not only was I not sure of how to teach adults but I was unsure of the different technologies as well.  I was to cover the use of.... 16 mm motion film, 35 mm slides, overhead projections and transparencies, the ubiquitous  opaque projector and some television production--the latter being that the department had just received our first mobile television camera and recorder.  Mobile was NOT the operational word here as it took four of us guys to move it from room to room.  But this course was BC--before computers! 

The room was an assigned room for the Media Communications department in the College of Education, therefore we could set it up anyway we wanted.  It was a long room with desk chairs on both side of the room with a center isle.  A small platform or stage was in the front along to one side a large oak podium with cigarette burns along both sides.  One could smoke in class during those times.  Behind the stage was a screen almost always in the down position and behind it a large blackboard.  If the equipment wasn't already in the room it would be in a storage room not far away.  The room could sit seventy students.

My first task was to inform the department's self-instruction media lab where students went to learn how to operate all this equipment.  There were slide presentations at each station showing how to load, thread, turn on, focus, etc., each device that I would be showing in class.  The media center had a test at the end that students had to take to be cleared on this assignment.  The student had to learn this equipment on their own.  Research had shown that those students who learned this way were essentially considered better teachers after being on the job for five years.  The thinking at that time was that we (the department) taught the student how to learn and when they were teaching and new equipment came on line they learned it as well.  At least that is what we thought.

My next task was to design the course.  I would start in backwards--first finding how many Thursdays I would have to teach (no holidays, thank heavens), finding out when finals were being given and what day would I have my test on...  With those essentials out of the way, I would list my objectives broadly (film, television, overhead, etc.), decide on how much time to allocate to each objective and plan the quarter.  Much of the psycho-motor skills would be taken care of my the media lab but I had not only knowledge to present but the affective domain as well--get the students to appreciate and be willing to use in their classrooms the technology that I was teaching.

So now my work consisted of literally writing lesson plans.  I would do this and that and the students would take notes or respond to questions or work in groups.  For example, I decided to show "Greenhouse," a movie about a kid throwing rocks into a greenhouse.  I planned to stop the movie at one point and tell the students they had so much time to write me an ending to the movie.  Then I would show the rest of the movie after they had written theirs.  But I also planned to show "Hemo, the Magnificent," a Walt Disney production about blood.  I thought this might be good for the nurses--who later said it was a nice review--thank you.  I did design some overhead transparencies about the human body as well as did several color lifts on the same subject.  I also did some transparencies on charts and trees for the forestry students.   I used some of my older transparencies that I knew the education majors would pick up on.

After my course design was finished I had to order some of the films and as I just said, make some of the transparencies.  Things were taking shape.  Then it was time to write the final exam.  I always did this early before the class even started so that I could see if my questions would reflect on the different objectives that I was about to cover.  Making sure my questions would reflect what I would do in class teaching...  With me so far?  I could later edit the test if I left something out or added some objective.  

Now it was time to write a handout about the course.  Overview, office hours, telephone numbers, class requirements like the media lab, being in the class, and the course paper.....most of the time I wanted something that reflected their thinking of how to use technology in THEIR classroom (or park).  Then you need to assign points to each activity that the student will do--how many points for the paper, how many for the final, how many for participating in the class, how many for the lab completion, etc.  At that time I didn't assign a number that would equate for an "A" grade, another number for a "B" grade and so on. I told them I marked on a curve.  I'm glad I did as you will see.

The entire course was put in a binder and submitted to my boss for his approval.  He liked what he saw and wished me well.

On the first Thursday of spring quarter I checked to see if I had a roster of student names (I would always get a few who hadn't signed up but wanted to see what the course was about), if I had enough of the class handouts prepared and so on.  Although the class went from 4 to 7 I was normally getting the classroom ready by three.  During the quarter this also gave a chance to those early students who had questions about something in the course that might not come in during office hours.  

It was an interesting class.  The nurses pretty much sat as a group about midway back in the room.  They were older and appeared quite serious.   The education major having been in classes together were friends and somewhat boisterous, a few having already student taught were confident and eager.  The forestry students looked like they were lost all the time.  They were out of their comfort zone but they were going to give it a good try.  They eventually sat together and shared notes.

I would stay after seven and put the equipment back into the storage room.  After the first class I quite often had some of the forestry and education students who remained behind to help out.  Lots of questions then, not so much during class.

By and large the class went well--much as I had predicted.  The movies excited them, the overheads wowed most of them.  Many of the class did not like the media lab where they had to learn on their own.  "Why can't someone just show me how to thread the projector"....or...."it took me an hour to find the on/off switch!"  No happy campers here.  It turns out it was mostly the nurses who did not like the self-instructional media lab--the other students were cool with it.

But I was overwhelmed with the course papers.  Most of the nurses wrote excellent papers that were 60 to 75 pages in length--I'm not kidding you.  Small dissertations.  My education majors pretty much did what I though they would do with papers from 20 to 30 pages targeting in on how to use the technology in their hope to be classrooms.  But my poor forestry student--they had papers of about 10 to 15 pages, not necessarily well written and not focused in most cases.  

So why the difference and how should I have interpreted it all.  I spent much my time during finals week reading the papers and after that, grading the finals.  Actually the forestry majors did fairly well on the final, the nurses pretty much cooling it.  The education majors were a bell graph from top to bottom.  

I've thought long about this episode in my teaching over the years.  I think I did right and I know where I went wrong.  Let's start with the wrong--I never told the class how many pages I expected, the education students did what they did in their last classes, the forestry students didn't do term papers so should have had more guidance from me.  The nurses needed a maximum to focus their papers.   

However on the test the forestry students could see the problem and knew how to handle it--they liked the technology.  Their concern was would they have electricity in the park?  The education majors were basically happy, the question for them was would the schools have this new equipment?  Like the television?  The nurses were pretty much accepting of the course but not that happy with it. They were trained nurses who for most of their learning careers were told how to do something.  Expository was the method preferred by them.  They hated the self-instructional lab.  I didn't explain the concept behind self-learning very well to them.  

I don't think the nurses would have gone out to teach and ever used technology in their presentations.  The affective domain bombed with them.  I really think the medical rule of "Watch One, Do One, Teach One."  was more their style.

Sometime later I dropped the requirement of a term paper in favor of a term project, i.e., make a television presentation, a slide show, a series of transparencies, and yes, even a flannel board....for sailing!  I think under these circumstances, the forestry students would have lapped the class.  They were use to projects.

I'm still pondering what I could do for the nurses.  They learned but not what i wanted.  What to do, what to do.  In retrospect I think next time I would put them into groups (they were all women) and have them produce a project to use in their teaching and then make copies for the rest of their group.  IF you're going to give it to someone else, you've got to look good, eh?  This way I would have involved more of the affective domain......I think.

It was hard work teaching this class.  I was also taking classes as well.  I could have put in a thirty hour week on this class alone....but had other responsibilities.  

There was a time when an acquaintance told me teaching was easy, just stand them and talk about the subject.  He wasn't a teacher so I didn't say much to him.  But I did remember this time in my history of teaching instructional technology to three different groups in one class.  It was hard work.

Thanks to all those teachers who go to great length to make sure their students get to learn.  You're a great bunch of people.

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