I’m about to walk into a classroom where a bunch of complete strangers will look up at me, their faces etched with expectation.
It will be my first class of the new academic year and I’m thinking about how to shake it up a bit.
Over the last few years, teaching journalism on an undergraduate programme in Wales, I’ve tended to give out the module handbook, talk through the assessment and highlight the key texts in that tentative first encounter.
But no more. After a tough year and a bad set of exam results last summer, I feel it’s time for a rethink.
Most lecturers agree the first class is a daunting concept. “It’s like a blind date,” says one colleague from the art department.
“If it goes badly, I always think, ‘We’re not going to make it to desert’.”
Some admit to having the academic’s version of stage fright after several months away from the tutorial room. Others see the first class as a low-impact session, a way to ease the students – and themselves – back into the ebb and flow of education.
Yet most lecturers agree that those first contact hours are crucial to the success of the year overall. There are no second chances.
So how should lecturers approach their impending big entrance with a view to setting the right tone for the year ahead?
After all, new students are probably already drowning in information and bogged down in administration. Returning students are more interested in finding the password for the Wi-Fi than a blow-by-blow account of a field trip in mid November.
There’s a scarcity of good advice about conducting the first class, especially for relatively new HE lecturers, such as myself, who have been recruited from industry.
But one thing is certain: the students will be judging us.
Malcolm Knowles, author of The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, espouses explaining why you are doing something in terms of both the course content and the process behind it.
Professor John Loughran notes in his book What Expert Teachers Do: Enhancing Professional Knowledge for Classroom Practice, “… the quality of teaching is evident in the teacher’s sensitivity to students’ learning.”
For Peter Gossman, formerly Senior Lecturer in Education at Glyndwr University, the key to a good start is showing that you care.
“Writers on education identify a caring attitude as one of the most important attributes of a good teacher,” he says. “You can do this by being well prepared and using the first class to support the students through an exercise that is representative of the year ahead.”
Gossman also highlights good professional practice, such as encouraging students in a creative manner and motivating them to learn.
“Education is about opportunity and motivation. The institution offers the opportunity but the lecturer has to engender motivation.”
“So do something in week one that motivates them to find out more and actually come back to the second class,” he adds.
So, when I walk into the room and 20 expectant faces look up at me, I’m not going to reach for the paperwork, or play a getting-to-know-you game.
I’ll simply take a deep breath, introduce myself briefly and launch straight into a practical writing exercise that will subtly flag up some of the ground rules for being in my classroom and introduce some fundamental concepts of the course ahead.
Most of all, the subtle message is that I care enough to have thought about how to make a better start to the year and how to meet their individual needs.
* After a year of professional development in e-learning, I recently submitted my final project, a 5,000-word thesis on blended learning for the delivery of journalism ethics.
Here’s an extract from my paper. Please add your comments or ideas below. This project has been provisionally marked as a first – do you agree?
“No printed word, nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be. Not all the books on all the shelves – but what the teachers are themselves.” – Rudyard Kipling
THE BIG CONCEPT
To conceptualise a blended-learning module to deliver deep learning for a new course in journalism ethics, incorporating ideas of immersive technology.
The use of real-life scenarios aims to challenge cub reporters intellectually, encouraging them to start thinking and acting as ethical journalists.
This independent project sets out to explore the options for a new way to teach journalism ethics in response to the ongoing change within the media industry. This move is in response to changes to press regulation and the way the journalism profession is responding to them.
During this project, I will set out my professional context, assess lessons from previous e-learning trials, reflect on the challenges I face in this task, the alternative solutions and the resources I can call upon to construct an outline for a new module.
Furthermore, I will recommend my preferred means of delivery for this course, while considering how I may need support to deliver the course.
This remains a course outline, not a complete module handbook, and assumes changes and refinements prior to implementation given feedback from my colleagues and learners.
It is, essentially, a proof concept, an overview and not yet complete, yet designed to reflect the potential of new ideas concept to deliver learning of an evolving subject.
It is based on the concept of e-learning as defined by Kirschner and Paas (2001) as “… learning (and thus the creation of learning and learning arrangements) where the Internet plays an important role in the delivery, support, administration and assessment of learning.”
SECTION ONE: WHY
Lord Justice Leveson filed his report into journalism ethics in November 2012.
As the Guardian (2012) reported, “Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press heard from 184 witnesses and accepted 42 written submissions in more than six months of hearings.”
It was, at times, quite bewildering.
In response, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ, 2103) introduced a series of changes to the national Reporting Exam in September 2013. This also reflects the movement within the media industry to give greater importance to ethics in journalism and forms a crucial part of learning for young student journalists.
The introduction, however, has not gone smoothly and learners have found this new element of the course confusing.
The key challenge, therefore, remains to find a way to deliver this new course material in a format that makes a somewhat amorphous and rather dry topic more accessible to learners. After all, while the PCC Editors’ Code of Practice (PCC, 2014) is a worthy read, it hardly makes for a thrilling page-turner.
But what if we could test the theories via case studies and watch the consequences unfold in live scenarios, albeit ones in a safe environment with controlled conditions?
Within this context, my ideas for this course also reflect a wider move to embrace new, technology-led ways of delivery learning and promote greater collaborations between the skill sets of different departments.
Furthermore, it reflects a wider trend in the higher education sector overall to integrate more technology-based learning techniques into the classroom environment. It is widely suggested that such e-learning techniques, while relatively new, offer tangible benefits for educators.
As Garrison and Anderson (2003) note: “Education is about ideas not facts. The current passive-information-transfer approaches of higher education are contrasted with the interactive and constructive potential of e-learning.”
Overall, this project may appear to be an ambitious idea, a bold approach to learning.
But, in many ways, I am not calling for an educational revolution to storm the barricades – far from it.
I see this project as a natural progression and reflection of the times, taking new ideas and incorporating them into an existing classroom-based module to simply update the course for changing times.
It does, however, set out to ride the crest of the new wave of e-learning as the sector matures.
“The belief that online education will replace on-campus studies is a long standing and unrealised prediction,” writes Cochrane (2014).
“But in the last 24 months there has been a new wave of debate and speculation … a third phase revival. The difference is marked by the expectation that being at university will be engaging, personally challenging, and transformative of careers and lives.”
Crucially, while I propose to embed both e-learning and immersive technology into my modules in the future, I am consciously not talking myself out of a job.
My role may evolve, my input may be refined and my interaction with learners may change – but I expect to remain a very big part of the process.
As Garrison & Anderson (2003) note: “There is always a need for a teacher to structure, shape and assess the learning experience if it is to be more than fortuitous learning.”
In terms of good practice in this respect, it remains often schools, rather than universities, that are making the best of the running.
The BBC Education website recently highlighted a case study with the Stephen Perse Foundation School in Cambridge, whereby teachers are making their own online library of interactive resources for GCSE, A-levels and International Baccalaureates.
But the school’s approach is not simplistic plug-and-play education. Tricia Kelleher, Stephen Perse Foundation principal, emphasises that such online courses depend on the quality and the skill of the teacher.
“The credibility of online learning depends on the teachers who have made the materials,” she says.
“Education should be a mixed economy, there should be technology, but it is only there to support what a living, breathing teacher is doing.”
Thomas, K. (2014), Is flexible study the future for universities? Available via Guardian Higher Education Network at http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/jun/10/flexible-study-future-for-universities