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Flipping Faculty Development: Teacher Training and Open Education

 Published on May 10, 2012 /  Written by /  “Glass Ballad” by Akira Yamaguchi; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 /  0

Audience has been a critical concern during our first five months at work on Hybrid Pedagogy. We realize the need to consciously expand our audience — to consider institutions and colleagues outside of the U.S., those working in fully online classrooms, learners and facilitators of MOOCs, and in K-12 systems. Most recently we’ve begun considering higher ed instructors in their first year or two of service, what I will call pre- and early-service teachers.

A thread in the Chronicle of Higher Ed tagged “Adjunct Life”, MLA President Michael Berube’s recent open letter, and New Faculty Majority’s National Summit illuminate higher ed’s slide into contingency. It should be worrisome to all of us that the price of a degree has gone up even as institutions are relying on more and more contingent (and thus cheaper) faculty. According to the AAUP, more than 50% of higher ed faculty in the US are part-time and 68% are non-tenure-track.

But whether permanent or contingent, how is the higher ed instructor pool being trained? Universities are inconsistent in their answers to this question. While many institutions do pedagogically prepare their teachers to varying extents, others offer little in the way of new faculty training, privileging content-area expertise over expertise in the practice of teaching. Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation with some peers about the preparation and development they remember from their first days as an instructor. One of my colleagues, Diane Jakacki replied, “Zero. [I was] Lucky enough to TA for someone who taught by example and trained me.”

At the same time, the university classroom is changing in response to the momentum of digital culture.  Flipping (or in Cathy Davidson’s case, cartwheeling) the classroom — trading lectures for self-paced exercises — alters the delivery of educational material (see Wired’s article on flipped classrooms). MOOCs and open education democratize the practice of learning. The pedagogical usefulness of social media is changing the structure under our feet. In the same Twitter conversation on teacher preparation, Lee Skallerup, an English professor and Inside Higher Ed blogger, wrote that “as we move away from lecture-based learning, we need more guidance.”

We are in a critical time of transition for pre- and early-service teachers. While higher ed has been inconsistent in preparing professors for reflective classroom practice, pedagogy (and even, in a larger sense, epistemology) is under revision. Few people prepared higher ed teachers before, but now, fewer people are sure what kind of classroom to prepare them for.

If digital culture has taught higher ed anything in the last 5-10 years, it’s that the power of organizing no longer has to rest in the hands of the institution. This does not mean that institutions do not effectively function; it just means that if they are not satisfying a need, individuals can organize to satisfy that need themselves. Clay Shirky makes this point in his analysis of “professions” in Here Comes Everybody:

Most professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management: librarians are responsible for organizing books on the shelves, newspaper executives are responsible for deciding what goes on the front page. . . . The question that mass amateurization [brought on by digital culture] poses to traditional media is: ‘What happens when the costs of reproduction and distribution go away. What happens when there’s nothing unique about publishing anymore because users can do it for themselves?’

Ignore for a moment that librarians do much more than put books on the shelves. The mass amateurization that Shirky describes is the communication and publishing potential of anyone with a networked device. Consider that training teachers for higher ed classrooms (physical and virtual) or classrooms in general (from the position of critical pedagogy) has been, at best, an inconsistently approached objective. Through electronic publishing, social media connectivity, and new media composition, that training can now be satisfied by a host of individually or collectively driven activities. This is part of the mission of Hybrid Pedagogy — to investigate the implications of digital culture on progressive teaching and facilitate ways to open that conversation in dynamic ways.

At my own institution, I hope to build professional development relationships with pre- and early-service teachers throughout the coming academic year. New media literacy, an area of particular interest to me, is an increasingly vital skill for teachers and students to understand and explore together. I’m currently designing a freshman composition class model that combines new media awareness and composition with project-based learning. At the same time, I will be inviting a cohort of graduate teachers to join me in employing this model within a structured pedagogical community involving peer-observation, reflection, and assessment.

This is the work that digital and participatory culture has taught me to do in the last several years, and I continue to see more of my colleagues addressing the question of teacher preparation in this spirit. If we build our pedagogy around being a co-learner, both with students and with peers who are new to the profession, the new media landscape affords us the platforms and resources we need to construct strong pedagogical communities within, parallel to, or outside institutional frameworks.

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