Peter Mellow - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Peter Mellow (Senior Lecturer, Flexible Learning Advisor, AUT University) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2007
Senior Lecturer, Flexible Learning Advisor, AUT University
Peter has taught over a wide range of levels for twenty years in the tertiary sector. He is widely recognised as a leader in the fields of Flexible Learning, eLearning and the rapidly expanding mLearning. Peter is continually looking at new initiatives to help the students with their learning, e.g. on-line course information and tests, creating interactive CD-ROMs for the students' use. These and other examples add depth to the students' learning. He is dedicated and committed to his work, provides inspirational assistance to his peers and is ever striving for excellence.
Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to have had my teaching recognised via a number of awards and accolades. While awards are nice to receive, they are not why we teach. I teach because I love the journey.
What is that journey like typically for me and my students? And, why are our journeys together like this? What new journeys lie ahead?
I often start the first class of a semester by inviting students to "Come for a walk with me, hand in hand through anatomy land". This underlines that we are on a learning journey together, and that I won't always be leading from the front. Sometimes I walk beside the students like a colleague, pointing out interesting concepts. I often get students to lead the way, so they can share their expertise and enjoy the feeling of sharing knowledge with others.
I encourage the students to make their environment their classroom. One example I use is the radio masts in Henderson, Waitakere City, with their supporting guywires, being mirrored in the human body with the muscle group quadratus lumborum. This diagonal support structure is one of many examples I use to get the students to think ‘outside the classroom'.
I want them to share with me the wonder of the subject I am teaching, and do this with passion and unbridled enthusiasm. I believe that by nurturing their passion for the subject it will sustain them on their lifelong journey of learning.
There has been much talk in flexible learning of the move from the ‘sage on the stage' to the ‘guide on the side' and this approach is similar to what I have always practised. However I don't believe they are mutually exclusive. As a teacher, I move between the two roles as I sense what is needed for today's topic or how the class are reacting to it.
I try to apply social constructivism learning theory in all of my teaching activities. I recognise that my students have a variety of learning styles and I attempt to appeal to as many of these as possible to allow students to create meaning for themselves, including developing tactile models to suit kinaesthetic learners particularly. I use blended learning and try to foster autonomy in study for all my students.
One approach I use is providing a wide range of course resources allowing students some control over what they wish to learn. Some may follow the textbook well; others explore fringe resources like links to interactive web sites to see animations of key concepts, which they find makes grasping complex concepts easier. As Shaw (2001) stated "students must be able to exert significant control over the sequencing of activities".
I am conscious of the need for constructive alignment and link my learning outcomes with my learning activities and then through to my assessments. Flexibility is needed here as some groups need a different approach, so being ‘fleet of foot' is a valuable skill. Being adaptable rather than rigid is important.
The only constant in education is change. This oxymoron has guided a lot of my development. The students are changing, especially the school leavers. The technology is changing, bringing both benefits and risks. Also the content is often changing - keeping up to date with recent research shows a commitment to ensuring that my classes are always current.
I am a keen follower of the emergence of connectivism as proposed by George Siemens. It recognises the impact that technology is having on our students and the ways they wish to learn. Students are very social and have always wanted to learn and work in smaller groups and teams. Making these connections is important.
Classes need to be entertaining. We are teaching to a generation of students who have spent twice as long playing video games as they have reading, and four times more time watching television than reading (Prensky 2001). However, while classes need to be entertaining, we must remember that they are not entertainment, they are education. Making classes entertaining promotes engagement with the students and it is easier to teach engaged students than daydreamers.
I embrace the Internet and the flexibility that it offers both staff and students. Before AUT had its own Learning Management System (LMS) I put up large quantities of course material in the form of static web pages, starting in 1998. However, I attempted to use it not just as a noticeboard for content: I used the Coursebuilder application to create formative quizzes for students to do. Students were given Internet ‘Easter egg' hunts to find resources and solve problems. Student interactivity with material is important.
Once AUT's LMS became available, discussion forums allowed students to have a communal space where they could discuss questions, concepts and share ideas. This format allows flexibility to students through its asynchronous nature. Students can log in at their convenience, take time to weigh their responses and then compose their own comment without the pressure of feeling that they have to answer immediately.
The students spend more time out of the classroom than in it. My influence is relatively minimal, time-wise, to their learning. So I am a great believer in providing lots of formative assessment opportunities where students can gauge their own progress and see how well they have cemented their understanding. These come in the form of short answer quizzes on-line, with every answer being given personal feedback, so even if they get a question wrong, they get direction on where to go to review the learning around that subject to ensure they pick it up.
I start almost every lecture with a short quiz. This gives the students time to settle into class, but also to review what we covered last time so their mind is in the right space to engage with the new topic of this day's lecture. I also finish with a short quiz as a brief review of the key learning points.
Assessments (both formative and summative) are not just there to ‘assess' students and their knowledge. I encourage students to look upon assessment as another part of the learning process; to learn where they went wrong in an assessment and to ensure that they learn that so that next time they will do better, that is real learning!
I have developed a number of electronic resources over the last ten years to add another dimension to my students' learning. As well as the face-to-face classes and tutorials, I have produced over 50 interactive CD-ROMs for student use at AUT.
Most of my students represent Prensky's ‘digital natives' and Oblinger's ‘net generation'. Cellphone penetration is at or above 100% for all of the papers I lead. I created the StudyTXT cell phone study system to tap into this phenomenon and allow students to ‘snack on study' as a start to using the emerging mLearning that is beginning to impact on education. As well as the cellphone, the portable MP3 player has added another layer of learning options with the growth of podcasting.
Because I use a range of technologies people often think that I believe that technology is THE answer to learning in the 21st century! While I embrace technology, I view it as just another tool in my educational toolbox. It is not the tool you use; it is how you use it. I believe that technology is ONE of the tools we should use.
I have been successful in creating a number of innovative learning pathways, which are not designed to replace traditional learning methods, but recognise the diversity of learning styles our students possess. These have been attempts to be more inclusive for marginal students who may not have blossomed a few years ago, when their learning options were more limited.
Is teaching a science or an art? We have research-based learning theories that we follow as they are an acknowledged means of providing quality to our teaching and the students' learning. However, there is the ‘X' factor, which is the educator's experience in front of a class and those soft skills like charisma, energy and passion.
These are hard to quantify, yet contribute greatly to making the difference between a good and a great teacher; the ‘art' of teaching. I believe that all lecturers have something that is unique to them that they could use and promote in their classes to enrich the learning experience for the students. Recognising what you have and using it, that is the real skill.
Energy and empathy, patience and passion are some of the keywords that come to mind when I am asked to describe my own teaching. I hope I live up to these words (they are echoed in student feedback), as they are important ingredients to being a successful educator. Being in a position where you are guiding, supporting and assisting students along their journey towards tomorrow is a big responsibility. However, the reward is feeling that you have made a contribution, even in a small way.
I intend using the award money to fund part of my own never-ending journey and to use the resulting learning to assist my peers on theirs.
Peer and Student Comments
Peter's ability to engage audiences with varied academic achievements and experiences, while maximising learning experiences is absolutely outstanding. Peter's charisma, enthusiasm, innovation and passion for education were definitely catalysts that promoted my desire to pursue a career in tertiary education. He is dedicated and committed to his work and to assisting others. He continually strives for excellence. I see Peter as a grounded, charismatic role model, who possesses honesty and integrity, and commits himself to extraordinary work with enthusiasm and passion, for the improvement of those he comes in contact with.
Robert Hogg, former student and colleague, now lecturer, AUT University
Peter was exceptional in his efforts to help his students with their understanding and was always using new approaches to help us learn, recall, understand and apply important sport science knowledge. Peter's door was always open, whether it was for further assistance on the sliding filament theory, additional study notes or just a general student chat session. Be lucky Pete Mellow - know that you have touched many lives and created many dreams.
Melanie Longdill, former student
Student appraisal highlighted Peter's exceptional enthusiasm and energy for teaching, his helpfulness to students and colleagues, and his ability to meet learners' needs using "an impressive repertoire of strategies." Two students' comments sum up Peter: "This lecturer is passionate about what he teaches" ... and "Pete is the most impressive lecturer I have come across ... he has helped me to decide to continue on to do my masters and become a lecturer myself".
Lorraine K. Parker, Director, Centre for Educational & Professional Development, AUT University
I have been privileged to observe Pete teaching on many occasions. His true passion is teaching and empowering students. He is continually looking at new initiatives to help the students with their learning, e.g. on-line course information and tests, creating interactive CD-ROMs for the students' use, which has added depth to the student learning. He sets the standards for other lecturers to follow. He constantly delivers excellence in education to our students. The energy he gives our courses, his fulltime job and family commitments show that Pete is truly a remarkable person. He is a consummate professional teacher.
Carol Sommerville, Short Course Manager, Division of Sport and Recreation, AUT University