Guided tour of my teaching ’98-’01: Teaching portfolio, critical thinking journey, etc.


In the statement for the tenure review in 2001, I discussed my teaching under the headings:

  • A. Wide Scope of My Teaching and its Active, Ongoing Development
  • B. The Philosophy of Teaching Critical Thinking I Brought to UMB
  • C. Teaching Critical Thinking about Science in its Social Context
  • D. Leading Students from Critical Thinking to Taking Initiative
  • E. Learning from Difficult Courses in a Thoughtful, Respectful, and Professional Manner
  • F. Learning from Educators beyond CCT
  • G. Promoting Collegial Interaction Around Innovation in Teaching

(Discussion of related themes and exhibits from a 1999 review can be viewed at
The last heading points the sharing of work I pursue in a number of ways:

  • documentation of process and outcomes, evident in my Practitioner’s Portfolio;
  • regular presentations and workshops, both at UMB (under the auspices of CIT) and outside; and
  • posting on my website of teaching and learning thought-pieces, tools, and activities (linked to each syllabus) [supplemented in recent years on wikis, such as this page].

Creating and maintaining a web presence for my work is one way my teaching is also characterized by

  • H. Making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies

Related thought-pieces and compilations of exhibits
Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit. (With case studies from science education)

“We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking”

  • “five passages in a pedagogical journey that has led from teaching undergraduate science-in-society courses to running a graduate program in critical thinking and reflective practice for teachers and other mid-career professionals”

Review of Courses, aka Practitioner’s Portfolio.

  • For each course taught at UMB since 1998 I include a review of:
    • the original objectives for the course (which should be read together with the description and goals stated in the syllabi);
    • challenges encountered and my responses; and
    • future plans.
  • Each review is followed by:
    • the syllabi;
    • summaries of the GCoE evaluations;
    • summaries from the written course evaluations I designed; and/or the originals of those evaluations.

Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit

With the objective in mind of making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies (see previous post), these guidelines emphasize the following general ways — from most important to least — that college faculty, teachers and/or students can use computers and other technologies as tools in education.  (Links are given to 2001-2 case studies from science education)

1. To extend thinking of students

    • E.g., The unanticipated consequences in systems of feedback where there is time delay (see Case study 1a.i)
      E.g., Virtual plant and animal breeding (see Case study 1a.ii)
      Note that most existing websites are designed more to transmit information than to ensure learning.
      E.g., if you have ways to get students to read actively, try to incorporate them in assignments that involve accessing information from the WWW.
      E.g., Problem-based learning, which uses scenarios or cases to engage students in investigation and learning, building on their prior knowledge and particular interests (see Case study 1c.i).
      E.g., if you have ways to maintain the interest of girls in traditionally male-identified areas of science and technology, then use them in maintaining the interest of girls in computers (see Case study 1c.ii).
      Included in such activities is looking at the history and possible future changes that computers have brought in thinking about thinking (objective e).
  • a. Use computers first and foremost to teach or learn things that are difficult to teach or learn with pedagogical approaches that are not based on computers.
    b. Make sure that learning/knowledge-construction is happening, especially when asking students to use the internet.
    c. Model computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.
    d. Incorporate activities that identify constraints and keep alternative ways of thinking in mind, remembering that computers, like all tools, constrain at the same time as they enable. (see Case study 1d)
    e. Without discounting the social and inter-personal dimensions of supporting learning (see guideline 1c), consider whether software and/or its use meet the principles of Universal Design for Learning

2. To facilitate group interaction, e.g., by freeing teacher from the bookkeeping part of class activities

    • These guidelines are evident in software from Tom Snyder Productions, whose slogans are “teaching in the one-computer classroom,” and “software for teachers who love to teach (see Case studies 2a-c).
      because pre-programmed software tend to inhibit exploration of pathways and questions that deviate from what the designers anticipated.
      If students remain seated in front of a computer, as is the case in computer labs, they are easily distracted from discussion and other group activities. Ways need to be found to physically separate the computer use from the group interaction.
      Training may be needed. Attention to this contributes to building the desired learning community (see objective c). (See structure of cases in Case study 1c.i.)
  • 1a-c apply here as well.
    1d also applies
    e. “Take away the toys.”
    f. Provide an explicit structure for small group interaction and peer coaching.

3. To enhance communication of knowledge

    • E.g., Powerpoint eliminates the time it used to take to write material on a chalkboard, but chalkboards are better for making connections during class and for acknowledging students’ contributions.
      In relation to guideline 1a, see Case study 3.
      In relation to guidelines 1a-c, see An exemplary webportal that Margaret Waterman provides to resources for science educators, especially in biology
  • Guidelines 1a-d also apply.

4. To organize a personal workstation or “virtual office”

    • See A minimal set of tools to handle my office-on-the-computer and enhance teaching/learning interactions in a sustainable way
      E.g., Do not use email or voicemail to communicate something you are avoiding doing face to face, or that you would not be prepared to do face to face. See Internet etiquette and ethics.
  • a. Identify and address bad work habits before seeking a technical fix.

    b. Assess — either in advance of experimenting or afterwards — whether a new use of technology will be sustainable in your real-life work situation.
    c. Take stock of the tendency towards “Continuous partial attention” (a.k.a. multi-tasking), set limits, and make unrushed time for sustaining/sustained synchronous, face-to-face human interactions.

    d. Hold yourself to high collegial standards.

5. To comply with expectations, standards, or expenditures that promote technology use without providing sound pedagogical guidelines.

    a. In discussions with colleagues and administrators, emphasize guidelines 1-3 and the distinction between “COMPUTERS in education” and “computers in EDUCATION” and, similarly, between “the teaching of technology” and “the enhancement of teaching/learning through technology.” 

    b. Initiate or participate in a needs assessment in relation to pedagogical benefits.

    c. Notice that, although technology standards for teachers may refer to higher-order thinking, etc., illustrations of standards center on using technology and rarely cite evaluations that show benefits for learning the subject matter, let alone higher-order thinking.

6. To occupy students’ attention while the teacher focuses on other students

    a. We should minimize this! When a teacher has insufficient resources to sustain teaching/learning interaction with students, the first step should be to mobilize additional human resources. 

    b. Take into account which software is drill and practice, and which extends students’ thinking.

Teachers should not simply assume that computers and other new technologies are good for education

Teachers should not simply assume that computers and other new technologies are good for education. Our professional development should not try to maximize the technological tools you master in the time available (see previous post).

Instead, in learning about computers and technology in education, educators need to:

    a. Make educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies, and 

    b. Plan to learn through ongoing Professional Development how to use the technologies you decide to adopt or adapt.

In this spirit, our efforts should be addressed at becoming acquainted with using specific computer-based tools, understanding the ideas behind them, evaluating their effectiveness, and developing guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies can be of significant educational benefit. The guidelines to be presented in this series of posts differ, therefore, from technology standards at the time the guidelines were written (2001), which mostly accepted that computers and other new technologies are good for education and focussed attention on teachers’ acquisition of technological proficiency. (Current standards resonate much more closely with these guidelines.)

It is important to acknowledge the context in which educators are having to develop their capacity to use technology effectively in education. Although the information potentially available to anyone with internet access is rapidly expanding, knowledge can be lost in information (as the poet T. S. Eliot observed).

We need to provide tools for ourselves and for students that genuinely enhance learning. Among other things this means — as always in education — addressing the diversity of students’ intelligences, backgrounds, and interests. In this multi-faceted endeavor, teachers trying to keep up with best practices will find many unevaluated claims and unrealistic expectations, controversy, uncertainty, and rapid change.

In the area of educational technology, therefore — even more so than in others areas of education — teachers need to:

    c. Develop Learning Communities in which we help each other to learn about learning and think about change 

    d. Understand and Respond to the Push for Teachers to Use Educational Technology

    e. Examine the Wider Social Changes Surrounding Computer Use Technology

In summary, professional development in the area of technology in education should enable educators to better fulfill the needs of your school, community, or organization; address the information explosion; adapt to social changes; and collaborate with others to these ends. (Further notes on objectives b-e follow in the next post, followed then by the guidelines.)

COMPUTERS in education vs. computers in EDUCATION

Although I use a variety of technologies in my teaching, I had not articulated my philosophy until I had to teach teachers about computers and education in 2001.  I did not find a text that I resonated with and during the first semester began to develop my own guidelines, which are included in the posts to follow.  I cannot claim much success getting students to address my guidelines or to articulate their own pedagogical rationale for using computers.  For the start of the second semester, I prepared a typically didactic powerpoint presentation (summarized below) to try to set the terms for the course.  The collapse of the internet stockmarket bubble helped to create more space for critical thinking about the use of technology, but still I was not very successful in keeping students’ sights on the education side of computers in education.  (My college hired a technology booster so I was relieved of that teaching assignment after that.)  A similar technology-trumps-education situation seems to be emerging with the more recent discourse about changing our teaching to reach digital natives, the subject of a future (skeptical) post.

Two emphases in using computers in teaching

COMPUTERS in education computers in EDUCATION
First… get technical skills explore pedagogical need and possibilities
Then… build lessons and other practices using computers develop technical comptency when needed (using especially peer assistance)
Emphasis taught by… people who are keen on technology — often not classroom teachers people who love to teach students
Emphasis driven by… hi-tech industry, administrators, availability of funds, bandwagon, fear of being left behind small counter-current to the mainstream
Success is claimed when… technology is used and flash is added teaching/learning something that couldn’t have happened without the technology
Response to the other emphasis Students find it more fun to use technology. 

Technology use adds flash to lessons.

There’s immediate gratification for teacher in mastering a tool.

Once taken up, we can build on this basis and get better in education

“Yes, you can do it with technology, but why?” 

Usage of new tool declines after the first flush of enthusiasm/first flash.

Time and support for further Professional Development is rare.

The major challenges Use skills in actual classroom siuations with equipment available. Establish plans and connections and PD practices for ongoing learning
Support those with the other emphasis Respond to pressures from those with the other emphasis
+…? +…?
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