Tag Archives: higher education

Literacy/English Teacher Educators — Goals for Their Courses

Along with my research team we have been studying literacy/English teacher educators. Through this work I became very fascinated with a notion of a pedagogy of literacy teacher education. In the second interview we asked  them to define the goals for their courses. We then categorized and tabulated the results. As the table below show not surprisingly building knowledge of literacy was their first goal.

Goals for course Number who identified this goal
Build knowledge of literacy 28
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies 25
Student teachers adopt a professional role 18
Student teachers develop a critical stance 16
Build knowledge of government initiatives 13
Build knowledge of digital technology 11
Focus on student teacher growth 10

When the specific goals for their courses were analyzed using NVivo a more nuanced picture emerged. Their vision for literacy varied tremendously. Regarding literacy although learning about literacy and acquiring pedagogical strategies were common goals, interpretations of what student teachers need to know about literacy theory and teaching strategies varied.

Some like Melissa, Dominique, and Maya (pseudonyms used img_1030.jpgthroughout) focused on critical literacy while Amelia and Jessie had multiliteracies as the framework for their courses. Jane and Lance focused on children’s literature, while Sharon and Margie had the writing process as their priority. One LTE focused her course totally on phonics and phonological awareness.  Justin commented: “I see our work as being about the development of teachers as public intellectuals …  not simply to prepare beginning teachers for whatever the particular curricular or pedagogic demands of policy here now are but for a lifetime in teaching and this involves them being able to be both critical of initiatives that are thrust on them and creative in their approaches.”

It also became apparent the teacher educators’ broader goals for teacher education were quite different.  For example Justin believed that he should “prepare student teachers for a lifetime of teaching; prepare them to be public intellectuals; see schools as an emancipatory space. Caterina aims to have her student teachers “themselves as professionals not college students.” Emma has very specific goals: “understand current curriculum …  develop skills to plan and asses … be independent thinkers who are not just teaching for the schools we have.” Bob by contrast has broader goals “student teachers learn to focus on the students … to unpack their beliefs  [about schooling] … and to develop an identity as a professional.” While Martha Ann focuses on the individual’s development “develop a sense of self-efficacy … learn to take initiative … …. know children’s literature … empower students.” The lack of consistency in literacy methods courses (content and pedagogy) in teacher education is a concern because student teachers may graduate with markedly different understandings of literacy and may have been exposed to a particular set of literacy theories and pedagogies.

In my next blog post I will present the framework for a pedagogy of literacy teacher education.

The Rise of the Two-Tiered System in Higher Ed

Over the past several decades,  higher education has slowly developed into a two-tiered system made up of tenure-track/tenured faculty and contract faculty. The latter of which work increasingly long hours often without great compensation or benefits. However, contract faculty work in these conditions because “at least it’s work” and/or “it’s a foot in the door.” I’ve been there as have many of my colleagues with dreams of making a career of teaching in higher education contexts. In her blog post on Inside HigherEd, Carolyn Betensky tries to make sense of how the two-tier system came to be through her own experiences:

How did we let it happen? Speaking for myself, I was so busy trying to find a job after completing my doctorate in 1997 that I didn’t pay much attention to the bigger picture. All I could think about was my own situation. Even though I understood that the odds of getting a tenure-track position were against me, I spent my time trying everything I could think of to improve my chances. Getting a job was up to me, I told myself. Oblivious to the highly individualistic ethos implanted in me in graduate school, I figured that if I was good enough, I would succeed. I did not think of the many other graduates who were also desperate to find tenure-track jobs — except for when I wanted to make myself feel better about the jobs I didn’t get.

I found a job — a three-year term position that turned into a six-year term position — whereupon I devoted myself to becoming even more irresistible as a job candidate the next time I had to go on the market. When I finally got an assistant professorship at the institution that employs me today, my thoughts turned to getting tenure.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but even though I disapproved of the treatment of contingent faculty, I just wasn’t paying attention to the way the naturalization of their exploitation was taking place concurrently with my own professionalization. I never thought of myself as having any say in the matter: without a stable position from which to voice my opposition, I just looked on as administrations chipped and hacked away at humanities programs across the country, cutting costs by depleting programs of their tenure lines and replacing them with adjunct slots. Like most people I knew in the humanities, I felt helpless to do anything about the seemingly irreversible decline of the profession.

Betensky calls on tenure-stream faculty (since they have job security) to get “vocally involved at every level of governance in the ways that our institutions hire, compensate and retain educators.” She argues:

Tenured professors have considerably more leverage than graduate students or adjunct instructors in our institutions; it’s up to us to come together to put pressure on our administrations to make the many invisible positions we fill under the table into “real” jobs. We need to do it for all of our students, present and future, undergraduate and graduate, academe bound and otherwise. If many of us are already working under austerity conditions at our institutions and feel our own jobs imperiled, so much the more reason to act now to secure a living wage for all who teach at the university level. It is in the interest of all faculty members to band together to demand a future for higher education.

Betensky’s blog post has provided a lot of food for thought. What are your feelings on the rise of the two-tiered system in higher education?

Read Carolyn Betensky’s entire blog post here: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/06/28/tenured-faculty-should-help-battle-opportunities-graduate-students-and-adjuncts




Using Snapchat in Higher Ed


I (Pooja) have always been somewhat of a late adopter to the latest technologies, but I know when things are shifting because of what learners in my class and my more technologically-inclined friends are using on  their phones. What I’ve noticed is that Facebook and Instagram are quickly becoming the social media tools of yesterday. Growing in popularity is Snapchat, a social media application known for its short-lived videos. On Snapchat, your followers can view the photos or videos you “snapped” for 10 seconds before they disappears for good. Started in 2011, Snapchat now has 100 million users and is gaining users at a rapid speed, especially post-secondary students.

It is for this reason I am curious to know how (and if) teachers are using Snapchat in their classrooms. I came across an article on NPR written by Jacquie Lee that highlights the work of one professor, Michael Britt using the app in his introductory psychology course. He uses the tool to post 10-second videos which relate to the theory and concepts discussed in class. For example, to help students connect to a lesson on the biology of the brain, Brit snapped his niece in during her ballet class standing on one leg. He “used the snap as an example of how the cerebellum in the brain controls balance” (Lee, 2016). Britt notes that approximately 90% of his students check his “snaps.” That is a significant number considering how many students don’t do/complete course readings. Snapchats seem to “reach” the students in a way perhaps course readings can’t.

I still do not have a Snapchat account. I can’t imagine people being interested in the details of my day. Perhaps I should reconsider. Perhaps Snapchat is an entry point into bridging the divide between theory and practice in our courses.

To read the entire article click here:


Blending old and new world literacies: Storytelling and Technology

I (Cathy) was recently asked to give a storytelling workshop for a third year Early Childhood Education Class. The professor felt the experience might broaden her students’ concept of literacy.   As a practitioner of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I felt compelled to blend “old world literacy” which in this case would be storytelling (it is the oldest form of entertainment for our species), and new world literacy, which in this case was an online interactive learning system called Today’s Class.  (I have mentioned Today’s Class in an earlier post.  Today you get to hear how I put it into practice).

Initially, the students (a broad range of ethnicities, ages, and English language proficiencies) shared they had never previously experienced storytelling.  They had been read to and assumed this was the same thing.  Most admitted they had never heard of Todays’ Class either, but were game to give it try.  I warmed them up by delivering an old folktale (old world style, just me, them and their imaginations) which blew them away.  “I could see the story!”, and “I was captivated” were some of the responses.  The class was then arranged into small groups of three, each group having a lap top with access to the internet.  Each group was “invited” into the Today’s Class site and asked to give their group a “nick name”.  On the large screen at the front of the room, I posted questions about the storytelling experience for them to consider.  After some deliberation, the groups posted their responses, using only their nick names for identification.  I was intrigued by their reactions as the team responses popped up on the screen.  They were highly engaged.   I could have heard a pin drop they were so intent on reading the other groups’ answers.  When I used to do this kind of activity, the groups used chart paper and markers to record their answers and these were posted around the room.  I usually read out the answers because the printing was often not legible across the room.  Also, I often filtered what I read aloud, instantly deciding what the key points were and only sharing those.   However, with the big screen, it became each students’ responsibility to do the reading and the  filtering. The accountability and engagement levels were higher.

As we moved through the workshop, experiencing different forms of storytelling, the groups returned to conferencing at their computers, analyzing the responses and discussing the salient points.  Both my students and myself were delighted with the results.  Storytelling and technology were a perfect fit.  The students left with a much deeper understanding of an ancient literacy form, many vowing to use it in their child care centers, but also left with a much broader view of the usefulness of modern literacies.   Old and new world do blend.   I couldn’t help but wonder how Aesop might have felt about Today’s Meet.    I think he would have liked it.

New London Group. (1996) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard   Educational Review,1, 60-89.



The Next Generation of Academics: An Uncertain Future

The Teaching Assistants in Toronto’s two largest universities are on strike. The issue is not simply one of money. I (Clare) read with interest an article about the strike in the Globe and Mail today. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/for-10000-of-canadas-young-academics-on-the-picket-lines-theres-a-lot-more-at-stake-than-42-an-hour/article23346532/

One of their major concerns is future employment. The article by Simona Chiose provides some startling statistics re: supply and demand. In 2012 there were 6,393 PhD graduates yet between 2008-2011 there were only 3,030 new full-time faculty positions. Graduates are being hired to limited term or part-time positions, not full-time tenure stream positions. And those of us in universities know that more and more courses are being taught by part-time faculty and that trying to survive on a salary of course stipends (which tend to be abysmally low) is nearly impossible. The Teaching Assistants with whom I have worked over the years have been hard-working, smart, keen, and committed yet their future is dim. The life of a grad student is hard. Let’s try to make their future more secure.

Teaching as a Relational Practice

The Chronicle of Higher Education reporting on a survey of 30,000 college graduates, noted that graduates “had double the chances of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor on the campus who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams.” The article also highlighted both the sceptical responses to the survey as well as the potential value the findings could offer institutions of higher education.

See more at: http://m.chronicle.com/article/A-Caring-Professor-May-Be-Key/146409/


Our Symposium: A Model for Teacher Educator and Policy Development

Clare Kosnik and Peter WilliamsonOur Symposium was amazing. For those who have read the blog postsIMG_2609 about it, I (Clare) am sure you got the sense that it was very interesting and productive. One of the words I would use to describe it is dynamic. There was such enthusiasm to discuss and grapple with the issues that we moved so beyond where we started (how to integrate digital technology into teacher education). Given that most people did not know each other, came from different countries, and had different areas of specialization (digital technology, teacher educators, teachers, policy) these differences did not divide us but they somehow brought us together to form a community. Not wanting to sound sentimental or superficial, I feel that something “magical” happened at the Symposium. The barriers melted away instantly and learning happened. Jean Murray’s “speed dating” opening activity immediately got us talking to each other. The laughter as we discovered interesting facts each other (e.g., John was fired as a gravedigger) raised the noise level to a crescendo. From there the Symposium developed into a committed group of educators focused on learning.Participants

Lin GoodwinThe two-day event was not like anything I have never experienced in my life – there was no posturing, there was careful listening, comments were relevant, questions were thoughtfully phrased, and there was commitment to something larger than individual research agendas. The interactions were respectful and genuine. I had assumed we would learn much about each other’s research and national contexts, I did not think that we would become a little community of teacher educators looking at the larger questions of education within a changing world. The level of enthusiasm was still sky high at the end of two intense days. There was no rush to leave or end the discussion.

Alyson BakerSo often in academia, department meetings are monopolized by issues such as timetabling. Conferences presentations are often more monologues that discussion. We need time to talk about the issues. The structure of the Symposium worked well – mini presentations by each person and time for large and small group discussion. This Connection Grant was not extravagant – we did it on a shoe-string budget. A number of universities contributed small amounts and we stretched our dollars. Given the money spent on university and government-based initiatives there is money for these kinds of events. Governments and universities need to spend their money thoughtfully and carefully – I would say, let’s use our Symposium as a Graham Parr and Scott Bulfinmodel of professional development for teacher educators and for policy development – bring the researchers together, devise a format for sharing and discussion, and let them proceed. I suspect the guidelines for education that they develop will be sensible and feasible.
Pooja Dharamshi Securing the grant and organizing the logistics were demanding. Our challenge now is to build on what we built and experienced. It is not just that I have much to learn from the amazing colleagues at the Symposium, but I also know that we are much stronger as a group. Teacher education is under siege. Individuals cannot resolve the challenges we face in teacher education but as a group perhaps we can do “something.” There has never been greater need to work together. I feel gratified — all of the work was so worth it. Thank you to the 16 participants who made this unique experience one I will never forget. I am eager to continue our collaborations. This website and blog will provide updates on our continued work together.

A Lack of Diversity in Higher Education Leadership

An interesting article was published last week about the lack of    diversity to be found in university leadership. When looking at full-time faculty at universities across the U.S., 79% were white. The lack of diversity was found most among higher ranking faculty (tenure-track; leadership roles; presidents).  For example, while 44 percent of full-time faculty at degree-granting institutions are women, they hold only 29 percent of tenure-tracked positions at doctoral institutions — even though women outperform men 56 to 40 percent in national research grant awards.”

An excerpt from the article:

Thus, university leadership increasingly reflects neither the student body being led nor the world in which graduates will need to operate, a situation that engenders disadvantages and lost opportunities. Students benefit from having mentors and role models from their own racial, ethnic, or gender group — as do faculty who aspire to leadership positions. Institutional leaders can strongly influence institutional culture; having leaders from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences enriches the intellectual and cultural climate in which students learn. And exposure to and experience working with people from different cultural backgrounds better prepares students for the real-world working environment of their futures.

The excerpt above describes much of what is happening in the K-12 teaching force in North America. Although efforts are being made to diversify the teaching force, white female teachers remain the majority of K-12 teachers.

Read the entire blog here:


What Can I Do With a PhD?: Opening Doors to Rewarding Careers

With continued cutbacks at universities, it is becoming more and more difficult for newly graduated students to secure an academic position at a university. Is a career as an academic the only/best choice? A new report  suggests  a PhD can open many doors and during doctoral studies candidates should be exploring many option and acquiring a range of skills. The League of European Research Universities published an “advice paper” on Good Practice Elements in Doctoral Training. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2014020617152794

Some of the key findings of the report are:
·      PhDs are increasingly drivers of their own professional development; and the training model in which the PhD candidate is heavily dependent on one supervisor is no longer robust.
·      over and over again it demonstrates that some of the most research-intensive universities in Europe are prioritising transferable skills, which are now being built into training programmes for doctoral candidates and, most frequently it seems, as elective course options and often in collaboration with other organisations.
·      the introduction presents 29 such transferable competencies like ‘working in teams’, ‘persisting in achieving long-term goals’ and ‘understanding the working of a specific high-level research-intensive environment’.

As a doctoral supervisor, one of the first things I (Clare) want to know from my students is what do they want to do when they complete their doctorate. I want them to be honest  which is often difficult because the prevailing norm in universities is that doctoral candidates should want to be academics. Some of my former doctoral students did not want to be academics but were nervous to reveal their intentions. If I am going to support my students fully I want to know what they hope the doctoral studies will lead to. I can  report some of my students who did not want to be academics are happily employed in a range of positions:  research officer in a school district, classroom teacher, and psycho-educational consultant. During their doctoral studies I tried ensure they are set-up to get  a particular position (e.g., present at specific types of conferences). A PhD in education should open many doors. It is important for us as supervisors to know there are many doors all of which can lead to a fruitful career.