In my twenty-plus years of teaching in higher education, I have seen a shift from strictly face-to-face classes and the straight lecture mode to hybrid and online courses, and the use of case study and group/team work teaching methods. These shifts have reflected advances in society's use of technology, the tech savvy of our students and faculty, and demands of employers for better prepared graduates.
While much research on learning styles and the use of technology has occurred over the past two decades, it is often published in journals that may not be accessible to frantic, overworked higher education faculty members dealing with the baby boomlet, rising enrollments and larger class sizes. The purpose of this blog is to begin an ongoing conversation with other instructors about the impact of technology and learning styles on the teaching and learning experience. I will bring articles that relate to the dialogue to the blog and discuss them. I welcome your articles and comments, too. While my area of expertise is health care management, my intent is to make this discussion one that will be useful to faculty of all disciplines. Whether you are teaching philosophy, nursing or health care administration, the teaching/learning experience is the heart of the classroom, whether face-to-face or fully online.
In November 2010, I posted a blog titled, "Teaching as a Contact Sport," in which I described my teaching philosophy. In that post, I suggested, first and foremost, teaching/learning is not a solo sport; it is a team effort--a contact sport. An article by Sprinkle (2009) addressed the question, "Who actually bears the burden of learning?" The author investigated student perceptions of educator effectiveness among thirty-two (32) graduate students in a face-to-face classroom. Sprinkle found the "most effective educators exhibited humor, compassion, had a PhD, rather than a master's degree, an interest outside of class in students, were enthusiastic, had real-life practice experience, were empathetic, used hands-on activities in class, awarded few F's and many A's" (Sprinkle 2009, paragraph 19). The author also found male students preferred male professors, female students preferred female professors, younger students preferred younger professors, and older students preferred older faculty with real world experiences.
Since this was a study of students in face-to-face classrooms, what does this mean to those of us who teach in a totally online environment? How can we apply these findings? One of the things most online courses require is an introduction from each student in the class and from the faculty member. Faculty members are also expected (usually) to post a bio and a head shot so students can know more about their instructor. While I cannot change my gender (well, I could, but it would be challenging) or my age (if only!), one of the things I strive to do is to inject humor into my bio and my introduction. I also emphasize my real world experiences and knowledge of the health care environment.
I always use a professional head shot like the one above, but others may choose to use a more relaxed, candid photo. I recall a colleague posting a photo of himself hiking on the Appalachian Trail. He looked relaxed, happy, vigorous and showed (rather than told) the students about his life outside of the classroom. He also included humor in his bio.
I ask students to introduce themselves using the following questions:
Please share the following about yourselves:
- The name you would like to be called by in this course;
- Your educational background
- Your current job title
- Where you would like to see yourself in 5 years and
- One fun (not embarrassing!) fact that others would be surprised to know about you.
Upon my invitation, I've had students post photos of their grandchildren and Yorkies, which really gives me an insight into my class.
With respect to demonstrating humor in online discussions, this can be a very tricky process. Body language is non-existent in cyberspace, so we have to be very careful about word choice. I like to use emoticons, so students understand I'm smiling :-D. There are certain things we should never, ever do as professors. In his 2007 address to the Association of the University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA), Ron Berk provided the audience with a list of inappropriate and appropriate humor for use in teaching. Inappropriate humor included: “put-downs of anyone, sarcasm, ridicule, profanity, vulgarity, sexual content and innuendo, and sensitive issues that deal with personal tragedies” (Berk, 2007, p. 104-105). Appropriate humor included: “positive humor that builds people up, the big butt theory (the butt of the joke is something we all have an issue with, like parking), and self-downs, i.e., self-deprecating humor” (Berk, 2007, p. 105).
With respect to compassion and empathy, one of the things I have chosen to do this year is to give my cell phone number to my graduate nursing students. Is that a gasp I'm hearing out there? What I have found is the students only call when they are 1) worried about an assignment and need clarification, or 2) have a personal emergency that will impact their ability to meet deadlines. I've also returned assignments to students, ungraded, and told them to call me on my cell phone so we can discuss it and clarify the expectations. I've then had them revise and resubmit the assignment without penalties. One student was shocked when I said, "I want you to succeed." She told me I was the first professor to ever say that to her. Wow. Talk about bad learning experiences.
Hands-on activities in the online class can also be a challenge. I have students utilize their real world experiences and apply them to assignments and online discussion boards. Undergraduate and graduate students can relate to these questions and reflect on their own experiences. Student feedback on these types of activities/questions has been positive. Here are some example discussion questions:
- Write a position description for the second job you want after graduation. What kind of job do you think your first job will need to be for you to attain that second job? Do you think you will need to obtain additional education and skills for that second job, or do you think your current education and skills will be sufficient?
- In your experience, what good examples of management have you seen/experienced? What bad examples of management have you seen/experienced? Based on your readings, which management theory do you think these positive and negative examples resembled most?
- Describe a time when you had a good team experience and a time when you had a bad team experience. Knowing what you now know, what factors do you think contributed to each experience? What would you do differently in the future? What management theories do you think relate to these experiences?
What kinds of hands-on assignments and discussion questions do you use in your online classroom? In my experience, students don't always see the relevance of an assignment until later, sometimes after graduation. What kind of feedback have you received from your students on those assignments?
I look forward to hearing your ideas for enriching your classrooms, whether face-to-face or online, and to an ongoing conversation about the impact of technology and learning styles on the teaching/learning experience.
Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD
Sharon Buchbinder is an Adjunct Professor of Nursing at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School , and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of two books from Jones & Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management and Career Opportunities in Health Care Management.
Here are some references if you are interested in this topic.
Berk, R.A. (2007). Humor as an instructional defibrillator. Journal of Health Administration Education, 24(2), 97-116. . Retrieved on September 17, 2009 from http://www.ronberk.com/articles.shtml
Berk, R.A. (2009). Derogatory and cynical humour in clinical teaching and the workplace: The need for professionalism. Medical Education, 43: 7-9. Retrieved on September 17, 2009 from http://www.ronberk.com/articles.shtml
Buchbinder, Sharon B. (2009, September 9). No laughing matter. Available at http://blogs.jblearning.com/health/2009/09/17/no-laughing-matter/
Buchbinder, Sharon B. (2010, November 16). Teaching as a contact sport. Available at http://blogs.jblearning.com/health/2010/11/01/teaching-as-a-contact-sport/
Sprinkle, J. E. (2009). Student perceptions of educator effectiveness: a follow-up study. College Student Journal, 43(4), 1341-1358.