Professional Ethics

As an instructor it is paramount that we uphold our ethics, we are given an enormous amount of authority as an instructor and it is up to us to monitor and self-asses our efforts and those of our colleagues. I am fortunate that in my field of Engineering we also have a professional body which has its own code of ethics. While it is not mandatory to be a Professional Engineer in order to instruct it is certainly looked upon favorably as well as it provides additional resources when looking for the correct ethical or moral direction with a dilemma.

Engineering Code of Ethics:

“Members and licensees shall act at all times with fairness, courtesy and good faith to their associates, employers, employees and clients, and with fidelity to the public needs. They shall uphold the values of truth, honesty and trustworthiness and safeguard human life and welfare and the environment. In keeping with these basic tenets, members and licensees shall: 1) Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, the protection of the environment and promote health and safety within the workplace; 2) Undertake and accept responsibility for professional assignments only when qualified by training or experience; 3) Provide an opinion on a professional subject only when it is founded upon adequate knowledge and honest conviction; 4) Act as faithful agents of their clients or employers, maintain confidentiality and avoid a conflict of interest but, where such conflict arises, fully disclose the circumstances without delay to the employer or client; 5) Uphold the principle of appropriate and adequate compensation for the performance of engineering and geoscience work; 6) Keep themselves informed in order to maintain their competence, strive to advance the body of knowledge within which they practice and provide opportunities for the professional development of their associates; 7) Conduct themselves with fairness, courtesy and good faith towards clients, colleagues and others, give credit where it is due and accept, as well as give, honest and fair professional comment; 8) Present clearly to employers and clients the possible consequences if professional decisions or judgments are overruled or disregarded; 9) Report to their association or other appropriate agencies any hazardous, illegal or unethical professional decisions or practices by members, licensees or others; and 10) Extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and geoscience and protect the profession from misrepresentation and misunderstanding.”(APEGBC, 2016)

If one considers students to be clients of education then this presents some fairly strong language and provides the reader with the sense of duty that is required to hold up such a code of ethics.

At my workplace, there is no procedural manual but there is a strong community and a very open department mentality to engage in discussion with one another to determine the best course of action. If I am ever in doubt of a decision or unsure how to proceed I am able to seek the guidance of my chair or fellow colleagues readily.

Falling short of Diversity

After reading chapter 8 of a Skillful Teacher the author’s discussion on diversity of culture, instructional delivery, and pedagogy caused me to reflect on my own teaching.

In the Engineering field we especially tend to lack diversity of all kinds even gender, this is a changing demographic though with an increasing number of international students. While my field of education may not have some of the issues describe by Brookfield we do have cultural issues arising from the increasing number of international students which bring with them a diverse set of learning competencies, communication styles, and language proficiency issues. This is an ever growing topic of discussion and driving force of change in our education system.

While considering my own teaching and instructional style I thought how we could implement a teaching scenario similar to what Brookfield suggests using a team approach. I can think of only one instance in my experience in post-secondary school during my engineering degrees where a course was team-taught by two instructors. In this instance, the approach fell short and made the class more difficult and lacked continuity.  This may have been a case of poor communication between the instructors, or the selection of incorrect team members, or even perhaps a poor choice of topic.

My own teaching style is one of verbal, written, and visual components. I strive to incorporate all three into my lectures whenever possible, although I tend to add extra information into the verbal part of the lecture to augment the core concepts which have been written and said, as well as drawn if possible.

If I were to add a team member to teach with it would be difficult to chose one particular partner, I also do not know how it would be implemented with a highly technical course load. I believe the struggle would be in continuity between materials, as was my own personal experience.

 

International Students are Getting Left Behind

A policy-centric approach to addressing the issue of International Students or more broadly students that are in post-secondary institutions that are not native English speakers, whatever form of ESL that might take, would all benefit from changes at the administrative and policy level.  A policy level change that looks at the issues surrounding students with English language deficiencies could have many facets and be a multi-pronged approach to enhancing the learning environment for these students.

The fundamental issue of students enrolling in curriculums in which they cannot succeed due to language limitations must stop. It causes unnecessary stress at all levels of the institution from the students to the administration. There is no clear cut path forward but a policy level change will do the most good for the most people.

This change in policy would have the added benefit for students of not just being more successful in their academic endeavors, but they would also be able to play a larger role in their academic community. When students are empowered with the ability to communicate they are more likely to engage inside and outside the classroom this is a positive feedback loop that helps to further improve English language proficiency. (Zhao, Kuh, & Carini, 2002)

This is where the cultural diversity can blossom and bring a truly multicultural learning environment into fruition. Not only do the international students benefit from increased engagement and knowledge retention the experience of their peers is also enhanced and enriched. International students bring with them more than monetary additions and a budget surplus, they have a unique viewpoint and a wealth of experience that goes largely underutilized. By sharing their experiences with peers there are enhancing the learning of the entire community they are a part of.

Student Feedback

The act of teaching can be a difficult task, as educators, we are constantly confronted with vastly differing learning styles coupled with language barriers and pressure to fit more content into less time.

It is often far too easy to leave a student or multiple students behind unknowingly until they complete some type of formal assessment. Often at this stage, it is difficult to correct the deficiency in knowledge, comprehension, or understanding.

One method to help preempt poor assessment performance is to create informal feedback mechanisms that can gauge student understanding, engagement, and participation. This may provide the instructor with key information into how the course can be modified or tailored to meet the unique needs of the class.

I am currently going to try implementing such a document in one of my classes so that I might better serve my students and improve their performance on exams.

Student Assesments

One of the biggest struggles in teaching is knowing if you are being effective in your ability to create true learning in students.

Often it is considered a standard practice to evaluate effectiveness in teaching on test scores and overall achievement in a program. However many studies have found that basing teaching effectiveness on test scores has many flaws and is an ineffective tool for measuring classroom performance of both the students and the instructor.

If you as a teacher/instructor/professor are truly interested and motivated to cause real learning in your students then you must implement some form of feedback mechanism from the students to gauge their engagement on a timescale that is smaller than a term of school. Taking exit surveys at the end of a course is too late you can no longer help those students, and due to the variability of cohorts and classes the feedback from one group may not apply or be a hinderance to the next group of students.

 

The Problem with Perfection

After reading chapter 3 of “The Skillful Teacher” (Brookfield, 2015) I found myself contemplating this quote “I find myself repeatedly frustrated by not achieving an unblemished record of expressed student satisfaction for every week of the course.”

I can empathize with the authors struggle for trying to achieve a perfect score on his  Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ), this is the authors’ preferred method of measuring classroom engagement and finding out where the lecture fell short.

The problem with instruction and trying to get students or anybody for that manner to learn is that we are all different and learn at different rates, styles, and require our own timeline to internalize information. So I can relate to the authors desire to achieve a perfect score on his CIQ, in essence, meaning that he was able to teach everyone in his class effectively. In reality, this is unachievable and if the CIQ’s were returned with perfect scores I would suspect that the students are not reporting honestly and candidly.

The mess that is teaching

After reading the first few chapters of The Skillful Teacher” (Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher, 2015) I was drawn back to one of the first statements in the book “The truth is teaching is a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction, and risk are endemic.”

This really captures my first few moments as a post-secondary instructor. Nothing would have prepared me for the turmoil and chaos that is teaching. My first formative days as an instructor were haphazard and riff with unexpected and unforeseen events, which the quote from Brookfield captures well. Now into my fourth year of teaching, I still find this quote quite accurate for my daily experiences my perceptions of the quote have just changed slightly. I am better prepared for the unexpected and the risks, shocks, and contradictions are more under my control than at the whims of fate but you will never be prepared for everything.

The only way to learn from past mistakes is to reflect on and internalize them.