Guest post – DigiLearn: Be brave enough to try!
Author: Rachel Cunliffe – Lecturer in Forensic and Biological Anthropology
Last year I changed my perception of what my teaching required quite dramatically. I used to think that my students needed to learn skeletal anatomy, and it was my job to help them develop that knowledge. However, my interactions with students, and the feedback I gave, and the areas lacking in which I tried to help students develop, showed me a different picture. Last year I decided that skeletal anatomy skills were possibly not the most important skills my students needed to develop if I wanted to help produce successful graduates. So I changed my perception, and decided that I am actually here to help my first years develop their confidence, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, and I use the medium of skeletal anatomy to achieve that. If I help students develop those skills, they will be well placed to learn not just skeletal anatomy but any subject material they wish.
‘But where does any of that fit with increasing our digital skills?’ I hear you ask? Well, the answer lies in modelling the behaviour I want to see in my students. If I want my students to use particular terminology, I use it frequently. If I want my students to develop confidence, I act confidently and talk to them about how I developed mine. In February 2019 I engaged with Digipath, which, to my surprise, showed me that I was really not very digitally engaged in my teaching. Genuinely, I considered myself to be relatively technology enabled: I used Powerpoint, I recorded my lectures on Relay and posted them on Blackboard, I even moved one of our practical assessments to an online version (see the case study here if you’re interested). But Digipath suggested there was much more to consider, not just in terms of software but in how I thought about my teaching and professional development. I realised that I didn’t really prioritise this; provided I was ‘getting by’ and ticking all the boxes then that was fine. So I decided to actively try to develop, and set aside an hour a week in my diary for CPD. I’ll be honest. That hour didn’t always materialise. But seeing it in my diary did prod me enough to consider it more often, and spend 30 minutes here and there reading some of our TELT pages, or investigating new tech.
And then… Coronavirus happened. Suddenly my world was full of digital everything. Our Teams were full of a whole new language that sounded like doctors’ prescriptions: Wakelet and Padlet on my tablet, or a series of children’s cartoons: Flipgrid, Zoom and Moodle into my Class Notebook…my questions felt wholly inadequate… what is flipgrid? How would I use it?
I spent as much time trying to find solutions to niggly problems as I did teaching. I was nervous about using new programs and platforms in front of my students – I didn’t want to try things out and look stupid, or get things wrong, or embarrass myself. I was tempted to ‘play safe’ and stick to what I knew. But that was never going to be enough. And then I remembered that I wanted my students to develop problem-solving, and confidence. Perhaps this was the ideal opportunity to show as well as speak. Perhaps there was value in modelling the learning process to my students, and not just the end point skills.
So – I got brave. I tried. I made ‘sellotape and string’ solutions for problems (put Teams on your phone so you can have a second screen to only display the chat so you can still follow while screen sharing…make a mirror writing card so students don’t get so confused with anatomical siding (see image)). I made mistakes. I deleted things I shouldn’t have. I learned how to caption videos. I learned how to edit captioned videos. I asked the students for lots of feedback in my learning process, and set up a test team with some volunteers so I – and they – can try out new things before September. And my confidence has grown. Not necessarily in my abilities, but in my bravery to try. And ask questions, and offer answers to others. I’ve used MS Educator Centre to learn Flipgrid, and iron out Teams niggles, and I’ve trialled three different online anatomy programs and given feedback to LIS, and I’ve both asked and answered questions on our Teams support sites. I’ve attended online meetings introducing new software and have in turn, recommended the software to colleagues as I see how valuable it can be in our new world. (I think. But I might have to try it a bit more). And, in a short space of time, my confidence, problem solving and critical thinking are advancing.
I hope my students are learning from me without knowing it, from watching and sharing the journey. Be brave. Model the learner you want your students to be.