In a week from today, I will start my second teaching assignment at Queen’s School of Business: Integrated Marketing Communications. Hey, I am excited, its going to be a lot of fun! Communications is an interesting course, no doubt, but that’s not the main reason for why I am looking forward to the next couple of weeks and months. The main reason is that I am the only instructor of this course (two sections). In other words: I have all liberties I could ever wish for to experiment with new course formats and teaching styles. In this post I am sharing how I designed the course according to my teaching philosophy, and yes, I offer the syllabus to download, just in case you are inspired.
This post is less about the content of what I am teaching and more about how I am teaching. Thus, its an interesting read (I hope) even when you teach something else than Communications, or Marketing, since the presented teaching philosophy and methodology can be adapted to many other courses and disciplines. I will also briefly point towards some digital tools that I am using to facilitate the course. If you find this part interesting, you should head over to my academiPad blog: I am going to offer more details on the technology side of things there throughout the current term.
Teaching in the 21st Century
Good teaching in the 21st century is not so different from good teaching in the late 18th century. Well, at least its not that different when you consider Wilhelm von Humboldt’s “Educational Ideal”.
Humboldt was a
German dude Prussian philosopher who lived from 1767 to 1835. He was quite influential, too. How do I know that? He has his own university in Berlin – pretty swag. His approach to education must have been quite revolutionary at his time (and for some people today, it probably still is): Humboldt believed that education was not about remembering facts, but about developing one’s own ideas and personality. Thus, the goal of education is to foster creative, critical and autonomous thinking.
Given the rapid changes and challenges of our current Age of Aquarius, Humboldt’s Educational Ideal seems to be more important than ever. Educational institutions around the world recognize that critical and creative thinking are fundamental to successful learning and life in general. Here is just one example:
“Responding to the challenges of the twenty-first century – with its complex environmental, social and economic pressures – requires young people to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable, with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking purposefully.”
So how can you foster creative and critical thinking among your students? How can you prepare them for life-long independent learning that will allow them to succeed in the fast-pacing environment of the twenty-first century? You have to experiment with new teaching methodologies!
A Teaching Methodology for the 21st Century
Showing youtube videos in class, sending out teaching slides via twitter, and even prezi-powered presentations do not count as new teaching methodologies. Sorry. There is nothing wrong with using videos and twitter – I am doing it all the time, too. Its just that focusing on such new media and technologies can easily distract you from really adapting your teaching methodology to the new learning environment.
Our dear and sharp-tongued colleague Ekant Veer, in his reflection on prezi, puts it this way:
“No fancy gadget will make a bad teacher better. No new technology will make stale content more current. If you are seriously interested in improving your lecturing technique, [...] invest that time into updating your material, or sitting in colleagues’ lectures to see what they do, or, heaven forbid, get some additional training. [...] Don’t pretend a new lick of paint will cover up the fact you are still driving an old car.”
Let me show you my new car:
Engaging and Enabling Students
The yellow bubbles in the graphic above – Real World, Collaboration, and Empowerment – engage students to develop their creative and critical potential. These three words summarize my teaching methodology. Things like youtube, twitter and a host of other digital tools enable and facilitate this process by offering a digitally enriched learning environment (or ADELE for short). See, this is where technology fit in: Enabling and facilitating new teaching methodologies, not just a new layer of paint to coat business as usual. For more detailed info on the technology part, hop over to academiPad.
I am situating my teaching in the real world in multiple ways. Teaching marketing or consumer behaviour makes this easy since there are a host of real world examples and trends available that we can draw on in class. We are also lucky that many industry leaders are keen on serving as guest speakers - as a way to give back to their alma mater and to recruit new graduates. I have done these things in my previous Consumer Behavior course, but with my new Integrated Marketing Communications course I wanted to push the envelope a little bit.
The first thing was that I canned the traditional midterm exam for a case study competition. I never found exams very useful, since they often confuse “demonstrating skills and knowledge” with letting students vomit out large amounts of undigested facts in a very short time. That’s extreme, but I went to university in Germany, where Humboldt’s ideals are paid lip service in the beginning of the year but often ignored at the end of the year when it comes to exams. Instead of just remembering facts and concepts, a case study requires students to engage with concepts discussed in the course, to build connections and to extend and apply their knowledge.
Case studies are great because they introduce real world examples in much detail, but they are still not the real deal. There is no client interaction, and students have nothing really to show for outside the course. This is why I doubled down on real world learning by letting students develop an integrated marketing communications plan for a real client. This year’s client is an independent groceries store just at the edge of campus. Besides putting the course concepts into action, students sharpen important skills such as managing projects and building client relationships. And by working with a real company in their community, they have something to show on their CV or webpage once the course is done.
This brings me to my last point in terms of real world learning: classroom-community-connection. The consulting term project already embeds students in their local community. In addition, students also contribute to the global community of marketing professionals by publishing and curating content online. They do this as part of their class participation and via two assignments.
In sum, the real world focus of my teaching methodology is bidirectional: The real world is integrated into the class via examples, guest speakers and case studies, and course activities affect the real world via consulting projects and the sharing of content and information online. Students build their (online) reputation and profile in my course. The real world focus makes the course concepts meaningful, as theories are applied into practice, and it opens up room for innovative and creative thinking.
I put much emphasis on a collaborative teaching style in my previous course, and students told me that they really enjoyed that aspect a lot. In the Consumer Behavior course two years ago, this was mainly done through class interaction in form of discussions in which we connected different concepts or debated the pro and cons of certain strategies and actions. I also employed a lot of peer learning strategies such as think-pair-share inside the class and group work outside the class. I feel pretty on top of the collaboration and interactivity aspect of my teaching, but again I wanted to push it just a little further.
The core idea in this next step is that students not only work with peers to develop their ideas, but that they see and learn from the ideas other peer groups have created. This is done by letting students present their in-class group work to each other. For example, students explore the brand positioning of a product or company (how it is formed through communications, what threats exist to that positioning, etc.) and after 10 minutes they do a mini presentation in class about it.
Another way of exposing students to their peers’ ideas is that assignments are submitted online and then shared with the rest of the class. Students are encouraged to explore their peers’ contribution because they are meaningful: For example, one assignment asks students to discuss emerging communication tools and how they can be used in a marketing communication plan (think twitter in 2007). With so many trends going on in marketing, this collection of assignments holds valuable information for every student who wants to make a career in marketing. A second motivator for exploring their classmates’ content is that students can vote what assignment should receive bonus points.
The use of peer evaluation is pushed even further by enlisting students as judges when teams present their term projects. More about this in the next section.
In sum, a collaborative teaching approach goes a long way to foster creative and innovative thinking. I always found that creativity reside less inside an individuals’ head but flourishes when many heads interact with each other. And by enlisting students in discussions on equal footing and even trust them to grade their peers’ work, critical and autonomous thinking is encouraged.
While preparing the syllabus I always thought that the real world client is the most important innovation in my teaching methodology. However, in the last few days I have realized that extending student empowerment has an even more profound impact on my teaching. What do I mean with empowerment?
Empowerment summarizes for me a couple of practices that help students to succeed in the course. That includes adapting to different learning styles and giving and seeking feedback. I use the term empowerment because these practices empowers students to effectively participate in the learning experience, but also because I radically encourage student voice and because I share control over the structure of the course. But let me back up for a second and first tell you what I have normally done in terms of empowerment.
In my previous course I have accounted for different learning styles by offering both textual and visual representations of course concepts. I used a mix of individual, pair and team assignments for evaluating students. And last, I tried to encourage “shy” students to contribute to class discussions via “luke-warm calling” (i.e., announcing that after the break or after a think-pair-share exercise I would like to hear from somebody who hasn’t talked before).
This year I extend these efforts by supplementing in-class participation with online participation. Students who don’t like to speak up in class have therefore more opportunities to gather participation marks. I also explicitly use creativity as an evaluation criteria in the term project to complement the usual evaluation criteria such as analytical depth, cohesion, and so on.
The strongest empowerment, however, lies in my new feedback mechanism. I previously offered non-evaluative feedback to my students in an unstructured manner and mainly in response to their contributions in class discussions. This helps, but in my upcoming IMC course I am going to systematically offer non-evaluative feedback by preparing graded assignments with non-graded exercises. For example, the real world term project includes several assignments that build on each other. The first one (a short summary of students’ ideas for a communications plan) is not graded, and students receive feedback on their communication plan draft that helps them when developing the actual plan. We also will discuss one case study in class, and students will see how their own solutions compare to other solutions offered by their peers and myself.
In terms of collecting students’ feedback on the course, I collected “how-are-we-doing” feedback after the first month of class and end-of-term evaluations in my previous course. I am going to do this again, but I will also implement a continuous, multi-directional feedback mechanism through which students will be able to continuously ask questions and offer suggestions. In addition, I will ask students to reflect on their learning experience at the end of their term project.
The continuous, multi-directional feedback mechanism radically democratizes the structure of the course and empowers students to take ownership of the course. Using a web interface that you might have seen in the context of online customer feedback and trouble shooting, students can continuously ask questions, suggest improvements and offer praise. They can raise their voice anonymously, but in order to vote for certain suggestions they need to be signed in. The voting mechanism allows me to understand what suggestions are supported by the majority of students (and therefore worthy to be implemented) and what suggestions come from a vocal minority.
The new feedback mechanism democratizes the learning experience because it empowers students to shape the structure of the course (e.g., weight of assignments, suggestion evaluation criteria). I have trust that most of my students will respond to this democratization of power structures in a mature way. Thus, the voting mechanism should filter out unreasonable suggestions. I don’t promise that popular vote will always decide whether or not a suggestion is implemented, but I promise to encourage and listen to student voice.
A last aspect of the empowerment theme is that students will take over grading responsibilities. Team evaluations are used to adjust the grades for the term project and students grade their peers presentations and assignments either directly as a judge or indirectly via bonus points.
In sum, the empowerment theme in my teaching methodology might be the most radical innovation in my next course because it erodes traditional power relationships. Students are allowed to take ownership of their learning experience. Empowering student voice signals to students that critical and autonomous thinking is desired at every step, and it provides an equal footing that encourages students to disagree with dogma and to think their own ways. Students are furthermore empowered by recognizing the diversity of learning styles and forms of knowledge. By broadening evaluation criteria beyond analytical aspects, the course becomes more meaningful for students because it resembles more closely the real world that, who would have thought, values both creativity and analysis.
Tools for a Digitally Enriched Learning Environment
New technology alone will not suffice to engage students and to foster creative and critical thinking. It’s not a magic bullet. Technology doesn’t engage by itself, but it can enable engagement when it is carefully integrated into 21st century teaching methodologies.
I want to end this post with a very brief overview of what digital tools I am using to enrich the learning environment in my course. All tools mentioned here are free to use, so be sure to check them out for yourself.
Over the next few weeks and months I will discuss the technology part of my teaching methodology on academiPad in more detail. This is my blog on using iPad, Mac and the web in research, teaching and learning. But don’t worry if you are not working on a Mac! All of the tools I am discussing here are web based, so they will work on a PC just as well.
- Scoop.it: A tool for content curation to let students contribute to the global community. I will open my Marketing in Motion board to my students to collect their scoops.
- Tackk.com: Students can publish their assignments on Tackk when they don’t want to have an own blog (e.g., wordpress.com, tumbler.com). Tackk allows students to create and publish online articles that can include videos and photos. Can also be used for presenting in-class group work or for distributing teaching supplements.
- Learnist.com: A place to collect students’ assignments to share them with all members of the course (and the global community). Students can “Like” linked assignments to give bonus points. Can also be used for presenting in-class group work or for distributing teaching supplements.
- Twitter.com: Great for quickly communicating with students, pushing out lecture slides, or letting students send links to examples / videos they suggest to discuss / watch in class. Can also be used for online discussions with hashtags.
- Storify.com: A tool to arrange social media and other web content into a narrative. Can also be used for presenting in-class group work or for distributing teaching supplements.
- TaskAnt.com: An online team collaboration platform to facilitate students’ group projects.
- UserEcho.com: A tool for enabling continuous, multi-directional feedback throughout the term.
- QR Codes: Allow students to access online material (e.g., videos, teaching supplements) via their smartphones and tablets. Great for students who prefer to print out the teaching handouts and for studying on the go.
I hope that this post was helpful in giving you some ideas how to adapt your own teaching to the 21st century. If you want to share some of your ideas and tools, I am all ears in the comments.
Have a nice next term, and happy teaching!