This is how I teach
This month we spoke to Dr Walter Barbieri, Senior Lecturer and course coordinator with the School of Education, and newly inducted member of the Adelaide Education Academy Executive Group.
Walter’s innovative teaching practices have been recognised with an institutional Commendation for Student Learning (2019) and a Faculty of ABLE teaching prize (2021), in addition to formal recognition by Apple as a global exemplar of ‘Innovation in Action’ in education. Here Walter speaks about the importance of technology in teaching the educators of the future, and how he has developed his pedagogical approach.
How would you describe your approach to teaching and your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is driven by a commitment to empathise with students on multiple levels: cognitive, emotional and socio cultural. In this effort I am influenced by a blend of educational theorists, including Dewey, Seligman and Puentedura among others. I’ve come to define my pedagogy: contemporary constructivism.
I design learning activities that allow students to generate and test their own knowledge and understanding, rather than merely absorbing mine. This involves me occupying less cognitive space in lessons so that students might fill it instead. I place significant effort in planning and resourcing before lessons take place so that I can contain my talking and students learn with and from each other. In line with Vygotsky’s and Dewey’s interpretations of constructivism, I allow for student agency and I prioritise skill development over content recall. Students in my classes can therefore expect to apply knowledge in practical scenarios with high verisimilitude to contexts in industry.
To this pedagogical approach, I add an ever-evolving suite of learning technologies. I recognise that digital technologies mediate most contemporary culture and think it is incumbent on educators to inhabit this reality through the discerning and skilful use of technology in class. In my lesson and assessment design processes, technology is not just another way of doing the same things, nor a cherry on top. Rather, I routinely consider how I might change my pedagogical approach in light of the affordances of an available device or software
What do you like most about teaching in your discipline?
My discipline is Teaching itself, which means that I get to practise what I preach every day! My research - which focuses on teaching strategies with technologies - and my teaching exist in symbiosis and I truly enjoy that conceptual coherence. Most of all though, my satisfaction comes from impact. I help to prepare hundreds of school teachers every year. I consider it a noble responsibility because I recognise that my students will continue to impact the lives of thousands of young people across decades. Therefore, all of my teaching is an exercise in modelling that has broad and lasting ramifications. Every day I am grateful to be afforded the opportunity and responsibility to help shape my students’ lives.
How does your teaching help prepare students for their future?
Schools do not have a reputation for being among the most innovative spaces in human endeavour. Several decades of relative inertia in structures and processes arguably justifies this reputation but much has changed in schooling in the past decade. In particular, Australia’s school classrooms are among the most digitally connected in the world. Most school teachers operate in environments where each student owns a device connected to the internet and armed with software with significant educational potential. Leveraging the affordances of these devices for students’ educational benefit is a new and permanent requirement for teachers to be effective in their profession. It is therefore important that I equip pre-service teachers with advanced digital and pedagogical capabilities in order to be prepared for contemporary classrooms. At the School of Education, I coordinate the eLearning Program precisely to achieve this objective. Through this program, pre-service teachers use contemporary technologies in their studies and on placement, gain Apple Teacher and Microsoft Innovative Educator qualifications, produce creative multimodal digital products and practise contemporary pedagogies. My pre-service teachers recognise that they are operating at the cutting edge of the profession and are elevated by this experience.
What is your favourite way to use technology to enhance learning?
Technology is an important part of my pedagogical process. Whenever a new technology emerges, my instinct is to approach it with curiosity and ambition. I enjoy experimenting to discover how technology might not only enhance the way I teach but also how it might encourage me to change the way I’m teaching. Using technology innovatively myself, however, is not actually my aim. More important to me is how my students use technology. So, I design activities which guide my students through complex technological processes, typically involving plenty of choice and scope for creativity, so that they might develop innovative mindsets and skillsets. My favourite moments in teaching involve pre-service teachers surprising me in the way they have employed learning technologies; thankfully it happens all the time!