Tomorrow’s Teaching: A Conversation With Dr. Kristin Palmer
Dr. Palmer is Director of Online Learning at the University of Virginia. She sees an evolving role of faculty and then shifting organizational structures and processes to support those specific role requirements.
She views some technology advances as tools to run towards and others to avoid. She sees a near future of faculty working collaborative across expertise areas to provide a high-quality student experience and the integration of edtech tools such as learning analytics and VR immersive environments in the classroom.
Dr. Palmer believes colleges and universities will need to differentiate what experiences they are providing to students: creating new knowledge/research, preparing individuals for jobs, and/or building well-rounded global citizens.
Education is changing fast and the consequences of this change can already be felt today.
It’s quite cliché I know but still, it’s true and it’s also a punchy intro.
Apart from AI making its way into professors lives, apart from Edtech tools making their way into professors, apart… OK! Apart from all that, the whole job of teaching whether we talk about primary, secondary or higher education will completely change.
Due to technology development but also due to the change of generation of students to whom professors must adapt, as Karen Gross writes in Thrive Global.
According to these transformations, what will change for teachers in Higher education? How will it change? What needs to be done? We asked Dr Kristin Palmer, Director of Online Programs at the University of Virginia (UVA).
The breaks in the system
“There are several breaks in the system that will be the big triggering of a change in teaching in Higher education”, says Kristin Palmer.
Institutions will shut down, students not finding jobs after having completed their master degree, a growing brain drain from Asian universities (notably South Korea, China and Japan).
Indeed, it is estimated that more than 500 000 international students will be studying in China in 2020 (the country is already second in terms of international students getting a degree there behind the US).
This general context has 3 consequences that schools have to take into account.
“There is this argument that Higher education has three disparate goals” affirms Dr Palmer, “creating new knowledge, creating well-rounded individuals and creating people that can do jobs”.
The thing is those goals aren’t always interlocking well with one another. “It would be great for institutions to differentiate more upfront what goal they’re after”.
By not declaring what speciality a school is focusing on, everything becomes general and because today, the majority of schools declare ensuring a holistic experience, mixing the three goals, which is much more difficult to ensure although possible, 1) students can’t find themselves a path on the professional market and 2) many schools will have to shut down.
The Western Governor University well understood that, according to Kristin Palmer, and openly state that they help their students find a job. “If you’re an adult learner and you’re looking for a job, I don’t see why you would go anywhere else than Western Governor” she affirms.
What is going to change
As it is more difficult today for a student to really stand out of the crowd to build himself a road to success, Palmer explains, they’ll have to be even more responsible throughout their academic path toward the market.
This will have deep technological implications for teachers and schools who’ll have to rethink the way they grade, the way they teach and the way they engage students using technological tools.
Finally, this technological and pedagogical change will then have even deeper impacts on schools organizational structures and the interactions between faculty. Moreover, the job of teacher will become even more difficult as more and more elements will have to be considered in the scope of action of a teacher.
As Kristin Palmer notes, “the main challenges are the evolving responsibilities of faculty (research, teaching, mentoring, advising, grant writing, presenting, writing, collaborating with peers, understanding Edtech, tech help, understanding pedagogy, staying on top of news/social media, etc) and the rising adjunct faculty workforce (and the lack of stability, benefits and a living wage for those adjuncts).”
How it will change
Students Learning Experience
Talking with Kristin about students and their learning experience is quite moving. She loves them and shows it.
“The University of Virginia is this place where… we have the coolest students on the planet. They’re just super awesome kids that are going to change things in so many different fantastic ways” says Palmer.
But learning doesn’t stop there according to Palmer. “It’s not like you’re never going to go to the university again, that’s not the way the world works anymore, you have to constantly upskilling and learning new things” she affirms.
“It’s more going to be about a portfolio approach” she adds. Learners portfolios have to help them benchmark their learning situation in order to manage their professional path more easily and know what they’ll need to update in order to still be on top of the market.
ePortfolios are a growing trend in Education, with several attempts commercialized already. We still need more intuitive solutions that would really simplify a life-long learning management platform.
The same approach applies to educators. “There is a lot more demand on the future faculty members,” says Dr Palmer. They’ll have to provide effective ways to teach, assign and grade their students while continuing to mentor, research, write, attend conferences, be on top of social networks, know what is going on around.
“Being a jack of all trades is not going to work,” she affirms. Schools and universities will have to make sure to hire people that have skills matching with their needs. And a portfolio approach is perfect in this case.
Pedagogical methods have to change also. According to Kristin Palmer, students don’t learn the same way. We then must have to adapt to their personalities, which is nevertheless quite hard to process.
An inspiring example from Palmer was on a History professor at Virginia Tech, the archrival of UVA. “He has a thing where you can earn points from a hundred different assignments. He uses very different approaches thus to grading.”
“He’ll have his students pretend they are Angela Merkel or a world leader. They’ll have to tweet for a week as this leader, know what they’re doing right now, their challenges, the strategies etc.”
Simulation, like role-playing, are very effective methods that should be used more as they fully engage the student in the learning process and into a problem-solving process that will greatly help them use and develop different skills to handle a project.
“What do you think about AI and teachers?” is a very simple but very effective question I like to ask in order to provoke a debate or understand the viewpoint of an expert educator on the developing use of technology in Education. So I asked.
“We need to develop services to support teachers,” affirms Kristin Palmer who said previously that teachers are wearing too many hats.
“AI definitely has a role in that, think about bots available 24h/7 that can help students find answers to their questions and understand the content. That’s here now, just it’s not adapted largely because most people don’t know how the technology works.”
Simulating situations via VR is also an effective way to engage students and create an immersive experience to learn concepts. Using the example of Ready player One, Palmer defines the use of VR in classes this way: “I think wow! Maybe… But not now!” adding that “sometimes we should run from things, sometimes we should run to things.”
Indeed, although it is used more and more to create great content, the affirmation of VR in schools still is a thing of tomorrow, not today. Moreover, its use is still too decentralized. Faculty and directions don’t always share the same projects or the same opinion on one tech tool.
Nevertheless, some programs and courses are very much adapted to the use of these kinds of tools. There, we should run to it and use VR to for example “visit Pompeii’s ruins and say let’s do an assignment about that.”
Finally, data ô data! Talking about Learning analytics and the need to centralize data to better benchmark the needs from students, Kristin is all in, affirming that we should provide “faculty with best practices and access to electronic data security and confidentiality for research data. That way the faculty don’t need to reinvent the wheel or start from zero but can leverage robust best practices. The trick then of course is making it easy for faculty to then FIND those resources when they need them!”
To ensure this transformation of the learning environment, changing the organizational structure of schools is a must says Palmer.
According to her faculty members have to wear more and more hats, as I previously explained.
“I would map out the different roles of the faculty and then work collaboratively to identify methods to support them in these different roles, focusing on where the faculty feel the most pain and where there is the most impact for students,” says Dr Palmer.
UVA knows about this need for restructuration. “we are working to develop some centralized resources and processes for research so that there is more support for faculty in that area,” she explains.
The future of teaching, she says, is the collaboration between tenured faculty members and non-tenured members. It’s about helping each other across several fields of research so that the learning experience of students is continuous.
“For example, one faculty might focus on research and working with students in their lab and another faculty might focus on teaching and mentoring students,” she explains.
Talking with Dr Palmer is enriching. Her views are critical, well thought as well as optimistic. Her knowledge and vision of tomorrow’s Education and tomorrow’s teaching, although coming from an American person, can be greatly inspiring for educators in other countries. Really.