By Nina Powell, Department of Psychology
We must remember that glowing self-evaluations of our teaching inadvertently endorse certain teaching practices – the assumption is that what we’re doing is working. If we think that some things we do in our teaching are not working, or some trends and practices in higher education should be abandoned, we must bring those to light for our own professional growth and development, and for the betterment of higher educational practices.
NUS has put into effect temporary contingencies for our pedagogical and career goals in light of the rapid change to distance e-learning. This includes allowing colleagues to forfeit their teaching feedback from this past semester in the annual review so as to minimize the potential damage to our feedback records when it comes to contract renewal and promotion. While this may be necessary, I would also like to encourage colleagues to approach the annual review and other career development opportunities (e.g., teaching award applications) in an unconventional way that makes use of all of the feedback and valuable information that we have (both positive and negative).
I would urge colleagues to consider the merit in showcasing and highlighting not just what is working, but what is not working, and to construct a solid critical narrative around honest reflections of our teaching practices. I urge this for two reasons: 1) this is an opportunity to bring to light the inadequacies of initiatives like 100% distance e-learning so as to avoid the all too common tendency to acquiesce to a “new normal” in education without sufficient consideration of the drawbacks. And, 2) this is an opportunity to showcase not just your achievements through metrics and praise, but to showcase your insightful pedagogical knowledge and reflections on higher education.
Traditionally, annual review and career development has centered around self-promotion and showcasing of achievements, which encourages an overly positive spin on adopted teaching methods, especially those methods that might be considered innovative. If, for example, we want distance e-learning to depart with the threat from Covid-19 then we must deliver an appraisal of distance e-learning that includes the negative as well as the positive. We must remember that glowing self-evaluations of our teaching inadvertently endorse certain teaching practices – the assumption is that what we’re doing is working. If we think that some things we do in our teaching are not working, or some trends and practices in higher education should be abandoned, we must bring those to light for our own professional growth and development, and for the betterment of higher educational practices.
I hope to encourage colleagues to be transparently critical, even transparently negative when necessary, about higher education initiatives. While this might sound like a rather curmudgeonly way of approaching reflection, I would like to offer a few important benefits to this approach.
We have an opportunity when we reflect to showcase and highlight our understanding of education and pedagogy by conducting a critical analysis of what has happened – in part to highlight our mastery of educational reflection and immersion with the pedagogical literature, and in part to bring to light the problems that might not have easy solutions and require more attention, discussion and consideration. For example, I have seen a somewhat disturbing, albeit well-intentioned, trend in response to the COVID-19 contingencies for NUS education which is to highlight problems with distance e-learning, and then immediately provide pat and overly-simplistic solutions – “you want more engagement with students? Try Zoom Chat!” While I can appreciate the need for some guidance in the short-term, we must remember that in the long-term, these more systemic problems with distance e-learning might need more consideration and ultimately could result in the discontinuation of such strong e-learning agendas.
The best way to approach this critical analysis and highlighting of problems/challenges is to use the feedback we have and write the narrative as we have experienced it. I would like to encourage colleagues to abandon the need for a glowingly positive appraisal of our own efforts and the tendency to shy away from negative feedback and experiences. Instead, I would encourage colleagues to highlight the negative aspects of this unprecedented situation, and teaching practices in general, in a thoughtful, well-constructed narrative centered around pedagogical insights and our teaching philosophies. I hope that this narrative can make up the bulk of some of our teaching award applications and reflections used in MAP, which collectively could help to raise awareness and encourage discourse around how we move forward without setting a precedent for education that we, as the educators, are not actually behind.