Writing critical teaching reflection is an ongoing process. This piece is updated in May 31, 2016
My teaching philosophy is to help my students become self-directed, reflective, and life-long learners, and further make learning more powerful to others in their communities (i.e., the class groups, their family, friend circles, outside communities). I believe transforms can happen in the individual’s cognitive level, or in the individual’s intuitive, emotional, spiritual level, as well as the community and society level. I hope what happen in my online course can transform, liberate, and empower my student, as an individual, then help them apply these transforms to influence the community he or she belongs to, finally, change the world (Brookﬁeld, 1995).
The first important question for me as an educator is what is knowledge? who decide what knowledge should be included in a course curriculum? I agree that knowledge is uniquely constructed by the learner, rather than transmitted by the instructor. I believe that the experiences learners bring into the class is important and learners’ voice and opinion should be heard here. I am more concerned with students’ need and intention to fulfill themselves to a higher development rather than my personal judgment of “important” knowledge as an authority. Educators should engage and work with students during the curriculum development rather than imposing a dominatory curriculum to them (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2013). Therefore, recently, I have made efforts to improve my course equality, democracy and freedom by engaging students in the curriculum development particularly the group collaborative work design and facilitation process.
The second important question is how learners acquire knowledge? As constructivists argue learning includes both the learner’s knowledge acquisition and meaning making in the individual cognition process as well as the construction of collective knowledge during the social interaction and participation process (Cobb, 1994; Liu & Matthews, 2005; Sfard, 1998). The social-cognitive aspect of constructivism implies that interaction and participation are important sources of learner’s cognitive and social development (Durairaj & Umar, 2015). We can definitely question “whether sharing experiences is important to all individuals and whether all types of learning are enhanced by the collaborative process” (Cranton, 2006). The knowledge construction and meaning-making process may occur without interaction and collaboration. However, I do agree that collaborative learning is a great way for learners to learn, particularly, an important way for online learning. I respect an instructor’s facilitation of a true supportive online learning community; and I try to integrate community-building pedagogical strategies in my online course. Underpinned with constructivism theory, an online learning community is generally considered as an interactive, collaborative, and cohesive online environment that provide participants opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and reflect with peers who share the same interests and experiences, or academic and professional development goals (Palloff & Pratt, 2007); the online community goal is to continually support participants’ academic work and professional development with a sense of openness, support, belonging, and trust built among participants (Palloff & Pratt, 2007; Rovai, 2002). Here comes another more important question: does simply putting students together in an online learning community result in active interaction and collaboration? The answer is no (Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003; Wang, 2013).
In order to help students achieve meaningful and deep learning in both the individual level and the community level, I have made several efforts in my online course. In my online course design and facilitation, first, I make efforts to design individual work in a flexible, practical, and creative way, thus help students apply them directly into their own study and work. Moreover, I strive to build my online course a healthier community, with inclusivity, diversity, and openness. I make efforts to make the group collaborative work more flexible, fluid, and diverse for learners with different learning preference to work together on. I try not to restrict online group work into the traditional format of “fixed” group; instead, I make efforts to provide students with the freedom and responsibility to “move between small-group and whole-class structures and redefine their inquiries and participatory roles to address idea diversity and build community coherence” (Zhang et al., 2009, p. 35). This flexibility can foster students’ interaction beyond the “fixed” small group discussions and encourage autonomous and class-wide interactions. For example, I have employed class-level collaborative work, such as collaborative online work charter, critical online learning moments, negotiated curriculum, etc. to make my teaching more democratic, participatory, and interactive (Brookﬁeld, 1995).
These education initiatives may result in different learning and teaching experiences for my students and myself. As Cranton (2006) proposed, when people encounter an experience or perspective that is discrepant with their beliefs and values, that encounter has the potential to call those beliefs and values into question and to lead to a deep shift in the way people see themselves and/or the world. In order to help students become more critical and reflective, I would like students to challenge their habits of mind. I consistently ask students to reflect on their own learning process: What they have learned from themselves, peers and the instructor? How are you as a learner before you came into this course? How have you changed? What can they do to make it different? How do you anticipate this will affect your learning in the future? As an instructor, I strive to be a more critically reflective instructor during the course of course design and instruction. I also ask myself similar questions: what can I do differently to make students being more critical and reflective, and to motivate students to continue their learning after taking my courses?
Some questions we may ask to nurture students’ transformative learning:
How are you growing and changing as a learner and as a person through all of these interactions and collaborations?
Discuss the impact, issues, problems, and concerns or any other idea relevant to how this type of class is affecting you in any way.
What are we learning about technology and online tools by using it?
What are we learning about learning by using technology?
How are you different as a learner online? How are you experiencing this online learning process?
Has that perception of myself changed as I have participated in an online course?
Have I revealed a part of myself that has not been revealed in other settings?
How were you as a learner before you came into this course? How have you changed? How do you anticipate this will affect your learning in the future?
How does learning and knowledge generation differ when we learn online?
How does technology contribute to that difference?
What do we learn about technology when we engage in learning in this way?
How does the use of online learning affect the learning process?
Brookﬁeld, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reﬂective teacher. San Francisco: Iossey-Bass.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2013). Research methods in education. Routledge.
Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide for Educators of Adults.