By: Ashley Bildfell, Department of Psychology
The individuals responsible for educating young minds at the post-secondary level are rarely provided with formal education on teaching pedagogy and strategies (Hellmann, Paus & Jucks, 2014). As a result, many professors, instructors and teaching assistants revert to educating in the way they were educated, implementing teaching practices that were effective in helping them learn. However, how students learn best changes over time (Zhu, Wang, Cai & Engles, 2013). Therefore, there is a possibility that there is a mismatch between the teaching styles of today’s teachers, and the learning styles of today’s students. In order to bridge this gap, the instructors and teaching assistants at the university level need to consider implementing innovative teaching practices.
However, before we can begin to consider how we might foster learning through innovative practices, we must first consider the meaning of innovation. There is a misconception that innovative teaching is only fostered through the generation of new ideas (Zhu et al., 2013). Although this is certainly an example of an innovative practice, it is not the only way to implement innovation into our classrooms. Therefore, in this article I will define innovation and speak to how we might implement it through our teachings at the university level to best serve our students.
Recently, innovative teaching has been viewed as a constructivist, social-constructivist, and student-centered process whereby students should be active learners in a supportive environment, engaging in authentic and relatable problem-solving activities to stimulate learning (Brandon, 2004). Ferrari, Cachia, and Punie (2009) expanded the definition of innovation by suggesting that it involves creative teaching that fosters students’ creative potential. Indeed, Zhu et al. (2013) suggested that innovative teaching also requires four competencies: learning, social, educational, and technological. Respectively, these competencies encompass a willingness and readiness to learn, communication with students from different backgrounds, passion and knowledgeability, and a use of technology to further student understanding. Therefore, taken together, we can consider innovative teaching practices as an intentional series of student-focused actions an invested educator can take to stimulate students’ ability to meaningfully and creatively engage with the material in order to stimulate interest and advance their knowledge.
Given this definition, I would argue again that innovation does not necessarily require novelty. However, the question still remains, how might we implement these practices in our post-secondary classrooms? Sternberg and Lubart, (1999) suggested that divergent thinking, embracing alternative solutions to problem solving, and demonstrating a sensitivity to problems could help educators achieve these goals. Further, it has also been suggested that providing opportunities for active learning and stimulating learning interests could also help foster innovative practices in the classroom. Based on this theory, I propose five methods teaching assistants could use to enhance their abilities to teach innovatively:
- Ask your students how they learn best. They are the experts on their own learning and therefore are valuable sources of information.
- Listen to your students. Ask for their feedback on your teaching. Then, incorporate it. By doing so, you will be engaging your student in an innovative way.
- Take advantage of working in a team. Innovation is not a solitary venture. Use your TA network to brainstorm new ideas and learn what innovative practices are working for your peers.
- Use the EDC to capitalize on the opportunity to learn more about teaching pedagogy and use that knowledge to fuel your innovative practices.
- Have fun and be creative! Do not be afraid to take risks and try new things. Learn from your own teaching, if it does not work the first time, adjust and try again!
In conclusion, teaching innovatively does not require that you reinvent the wheel. By committing to listening to your students, providing opportunities for real-life learning, fostering creativity and making the material meaningful to them, you will achieve the implementation of innovative practices in your classrooms.
Brandon, B. (2004). Applying instructional systems processes to constructivist learning environments. The e-Learning Developers’ Journal. Retrieved from http://www.elearningguild.com/pdf/ 2/062904DES.pdf.
Ferrari, A., Cachia, R., & Punie, Y. (2009). Literature review on Innovation and Creativity in E&T in the EU Member States. Retrieved from http://www.jrc.ec.europa.eu/.
Hellmann, J. H., Paus, E., & Jucks, R. (2014). How can innovative teaching be taught? Insights from higher education. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 13(1), 43-51. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/plat.2014.13.1.43.
Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1999). The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. Handbook of creativity. (pp. 3-15) Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/619353383?accountid=9894.
Zhu, C., Wang, D., Cai, Y., & Engels, N. (2013). What core competencies are related to teachers’ innovative teaching? Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 41(1), 9-27. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2012.753984.