I have developed my eLearning Philosophy Statement by asking myself, and answering, a number of key questions.
What do I believe about e-learning? Why?
At the start of the two year MSc Applied eLearning course, my ambition was to develop fully online courses, which would enable Junior and Leaving Certificate students to learn all of the mathematics required to succeed in these courses to the highest possible level. I believed that this could be successfully done without having face-to-face learning of any description, including traditional teacher-led learning. My attitude and perspective changed during the two year MSc course, and I now believe that this ambition or goal is neither desirable nor achievable. It is not desirable as I now believe that teaching and learning are essentially human endeavours. Some of the lectures, tutorials, and workshops I attended during the two years reminded me of the enjoyment and value of learning in an environment of peers and More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs)! I have, of course, borrowed the MKO acronym from Vygotsky, one of the pioneers of the learning theory social constructivism. Moreover, I am now aware of the huge drop-out rate from fully online MOOCS, where a completion rate of 7% is often quoted.
What do I believe about how people learn more generally? Why?
Currently, my favoured learning theories are constructivism and social constructivism. These learning theories have deep roots in classical antiquity. Socrates, in dialogue with his followers, asked directed questions that led his students to realise for themselves the weaknesses in their thinking. In constructivism, learning is perceived as an active process where knowledge is constructed, not acquired. Knowledge construction is based on personal experiences and the continual testing of hypotheses. I teach post-primary mathematics to 12 to 18-year-old students, and the interconnectedness of the various fields of mathematics taught at this level requires a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. This does not mean that behaviourist approaches have no role at all in maths teaching and learning. I don’t believe that connectivism has a role to play in maths teaching and learning at this level as learning the fundamentals of mathematics lends itself more to individual rather than a group learning approach.
What motivates me to learn and how is that played out in my practice?
Learning is what enables me to make sense of the world. I have a natural curiosity to learn about things that I have no knowledge of. There is a satisfaction and sometimes an excitement to be had from learning about hitherto unknown things. ‘Eureka’ or ‘penny-drop’ moments are immensely satisfying. Looking back on a period of learning in one’s life gives a person to have a sense of how his/her perspective and outlook has changed as a result of learning.
My personal motivation to learn results in a similar motivation to demonstrate to my students the value and joy of learning. I think that when a teacher is passionate about learning, that passion is communicated to students and inspires them to learn. I believe that embedding eLearning in one’s teaching can significantly enhance learning. This belief often motivates me to undertake further training and education in the field of eLearning.
What were my plans for developing or improving my practice in this MSc?
In this MSc course, my plan from the outset was to acquire new skills and knowledge in the areas of learning theories, instructional design, and eAuthoring.
What are my goals as an e-learning practitioner and what outcomes do I expect for the learner?
My goals as an eLearning practitioner are to identify where and how eLearning applications and courseware can and should be embedded into traditional classroom learning in the post-primary school in order to enhance teaching and learning. This is important for me both personally and in my role as the school’s ICT Co-ordinator, I believe that I should encourage my colleagues to do likewise.
I think that it is important for the learner to be aware of the variety of eLearning applications that are available and to become proficient in using ones that he/she likes and finds useful. The learner needs to ultimately become aware of how eLearning tools can be used to enhance learning but that they should not be treated in isolation to other modes of learning such as the traditional classroom, the flipped classroom, blended leaning, etc.
The widespread availability of Open Educational Resources (OERs) represents a great challenge and a great opportunity for schools and learning in general. However, the time required to assess and harness these OERs is a significant constraint.
What is the relationship I strive to achieve with my own learners and how do I know when I have taught successfully?
The type of relationship I strive to achieve with my own learners involves creating learning contexts that lead students to understand that they are the most partner in the teacher-student relationship. Independent learning for the learner should always be the goal in such a partnership, in the same way that the child maturing into a young adult eventually gains independence from the parent(s).
Teachers often wonder if there teaching is effective and successful. This is something that is notoriously difficult to assess. Some of the indicators of successful teaching include examination results, feedback from students and peers, and the motivation levels of the students. The effectiveness and efficiency of eLearning interventions can also be extremely difficult to assess. However, it is definitely worthwhile for the teacher who has research experience to try to assess the success or otherwise of eLearning interventions.
What demonstrates my desire to grow as a practitioner/researcher and what do I still struggle with in terms of issues in e-learning?
I have demonstrated my desire to grow as a practitioner and researcher through my involvement with communities of practice, undertaking and completing postgraduate degree courses in education, and developing eLearning courseware for teachers and students. I have been involved in the Irish Mathematics Teachers’ Association for over 20 years, I have completed two postgraduate degree courses (a Masters in Education degree in TCD, and a MSc Applied eLearning degree in DIT), and I have created eLearning courseware for post-primary mathematics through an educational software company that I founded.
There are two eLearning issues that I continue to struggle with. The first relates to the difficulty I and many teachers have in embedding eLearning into traditional classroom based teaching and learning. These problems are rooted in the fact that schools have limited ICT hardware resources, the dearth of good educational software, and the lack of time to create and test programmes to integrate eLearning with traditional classroom teaching and learning.
What habits, attitudes, or methods mark my most successful teaching achievements, and what values do I impart to people in my practice?
I have noticed that providing supplemental classes, tutorials, and other learning experiences improves student learning outcomes including grades in summative assessments.
I have high standards in relation to the quality of my teaching and my approach to integrity and ethics in education. Leading by example helps to impart these values to my peers in teaching.
Has my approach to my practice changed over time and what role do my learners play in the training environment or classroom?
My approach to teaching has changed over time. In my early years, I was focussed on trying to impart as much information as possible and as efficiently as possible. As I matured as a teacher, I recognised that shifting the balance of responsibility from the teacher imparting information to student responsibility for his or her own learning is very important. My current approach is to try to achieve a good blend of high quality teaching, student motivation, appropriate embedding of eLearning, and formative and summative assessment. It is also important to include the student’s mental health and psychological needs in this mix as it is more difficult for a student to learn when there are psychological obstacles.
My learners have a key role to play in the classroom. It is important that they recognise and are always conscious of the fact that they are the significant partner in the student-teacher relationship. In practical terms, if I am using a flipped classroom scenario for a particular lesson, it is important that the student understands that if he/she does not take responsibility for the required independent learning in the first part of the lesson, then the teacher’s role in part two of the lesson will not be very effective for the student.
What teaching or training practices do I use and prefer, what have I learned about myself as a practitioner, and what excites me about my professional role?
In my teaching practice, I like to use a mixture of different approaches including traditional didactic teaching, the embedding of eLearning both didactically and for student independent learning, the flipped classroom, and formative assessment.
As a practitioner, I have found that my teaching, and approach to teaching and learning, is constantly evolving as a result of experience, reflection, continuous professional education, and experimentation. I think that this is a good thing as it keeps me motivated as a teacher and education professional.
The thing that excites me most about my professional role is finding new and better ways for teaching, learning and assessment. For me, this often involves learning about and integrating new digital technologies into the classroom.
How has research influenced my professional practice?
The research I have carried out in the field of mathematics education has informed my teaching approach in areas such as algebra and geometry. My research in the areas of eLearning and has provided a very good framework for understanding how best to embed digital technologies into traditional classroom based teaching and learning.
What are the aims of my organisation in terms of learning and professional development?
Every post-primary school in Ireland is meant to have an eLearning Plan. This plan sets out how each school believes digital technologies should be integrated into teaching, learning, and assessment within the school. Continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers is usually driven by teachers’ intrinsic motivation to learn, school management encouraging teachers to take CPD, and extrinsically by awards for acquiring certain qualifications.