Communication is the responsibility of the communicator

Puzzle pieces

But we all have a piece of the puzzle.

I once heard this at a self-development course many years ago in relation to business, customers and share trading but I think we can apply it aptly to education as well.  As teachers we have a responsibility to not only to transfer knowledge but to communicate, to connect, to question and help students develop these same skills.  I mean what better proof would you have that you’ve done your job than a student being able to stand up and almost model your skills and critical thinking?  I still recall the day, two thirds of the way through, my final year of Extension 2 Mathematics at a small country school when my teacher turned to the class (just me) and said,

Okay you now know everything I know about Mathematics, the rest will be a journey together.

Now as beautiful as that is, and at the time I found it very uplifting because I felt like I was on an equal footing with my teacher and that huge depth of knowledge she had, it is not enough unless we have also taught our class of learners (even if it is just one!) to question, to think critically… to love learning.

So as a I begin this reflection and summary activity for Module 4 of ET523 I am left wondering and contemplating whether by completing Mathematics at a high level itself is a form of teaching critical thinking? If critical thinking is really about framing knowledge and using logic and reasoning to define our position then it could really be called the mathematics of thinking.

Now I know asking critical questions in the discussion forums was only a small part of this module, and a part I completed poorly, I have been mentally captured by this analogy, critical thinking is the mathematics of thinking. That in itself could mean that if we teach students the skills and questioning techniques to think more critically they really are becoming better Mathematicians.  But don’t just trust me on this, read this definition from The Critical Thinking Community and count how many phrases make you think of Mathematics,

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

So what did you get?

My thinking when I'm in reflection mode.

I counted 8 different prompts which made me think of Mathematics.
But I digress.. more on thinking and questioning in the future.
Back to the module at hand.

Summary and Reflection on learning

During Module 4 I must admit I was a little lost. The path was not linear enough for my learning style, there was multiple components and then there was still the ongoing discussions hosted by peers and then there was a communication plan thing which wasn’t referenced anywhere in the module’s theory except as a task and then right at the bottom of the page I found the link.  Lastly I guess it didn’t help that spring break was in the middle of it so from the other side of the world it does feel like the learning community just disappears.  The forums go quite, the inbox no longer populates exponentially… it is a weird little phenomena to be on the other side (literally).

However it did highlight some of the major points from the discussion forums  regarding time constraints.  The issue of personal and professional (work) commitments kept cropping up as the major challenge for participants to manage in an adult online learning environment and for instructors to be aware of this fact.  Numerous peers of mine, myself included, shared very personal comments as to the nature of our busy workplaces and home environments today. From new baby arrivals to new bosses who increase the workload unexpectedly all of which is technically “invisible” to the instructor online.  This visibility issue can be addressed by making personal connections at the start of a course via a virtual icebreaker activity and gently reminding students who seem to not be fully participating that they can share any challenges they might be having.  In my personal case having peers and instructors who create and contribute to a safe and positive learning community has enabled me to be completely open and honest about my commitments and how I have felt at various stages in the course.

Even the instructions to this activity and the summary of this module help highlight this issue and how that in itself improves and encourages deeper learning:

As your work throughout this course has shown, online discussion forums support a vision of learning that emphasizes engagement, collaboration and interaction. Effectively facilitating discussions to achieve this vision is a complex task and involves a vast array of variables; establishment of clear purposes and goals for learning, establishment of a clear moderator role, effective use of voice and tone, instructional strategies to promote critical thinking, and management techniques that convey clear expectations to participants. Now is the time to reflect on your efforts and your learning. (Edtech 523 BSU, 2012)

But lastly the concept I have embedded the most from this module is the old 5Ps principle “prior planning prevents poor performance”.  There is just so much to learn about how to teach online that it continues to amaze me.  If we plan and prepare discussion questions carefully and correctly to match the content, standards, ability level as well as moderating them consistently using critical questioning and thinking techniques then we will encourage and create transforming learning in our participants.  In fact it should take them from being participants to learners, and isn’t that our goal? So what will I change?… Firstly I will hold myself to these same standards (see my communication plan), I will plan more, make time to reflect more, make time to think critically and encourage critical thinking with my students.  This will be no easy feat as changing habits of taking too much on, always saying yes, always managing to balance everything (except getting enough sleep, exercise and reflective time) will take some time.  But from next semester I will be taking that challenge, a reduced work load at work, a semester or two off uni should allow me to work on getting that balance back.  Will my remaining 3 senior classes see the benefit?  Well like all deep, transforming learning, you don’t notice it at the time but hopefully in 5 or 10 years time one of them might message me via social network to say, “Hey Mr Vass I just did a corporate finance subject for my MBA and I remembered all my mathematics from your class, isn’t that amazing? Most of the stuff I learnt in high school I’ve forgotten but for some reason this stuff stayed. Any idea why?” ….
Let’s hope I have an answer.

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