Blog 59

The Pedagogical Workout: Bootcamps as Innovative Teaching Practice

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Lisa Endersby, Teaching Commons

I was recently invited to attend a symposium on technology and pedagogy hosted by Contact North. The meeting, held in downtown Toronto, brought together colleagues from a diverse group of institutions and organizations under the common goal of exploring the intersections of technology and pedagogy in French language learning. Our work in the Teaching Commons in delivering bootcamp sessions on eLearning, Experiential Education, and Course Design was identified as an innovative practice that could be a valuable addition to our colleagues’ pedagogical toolkit.

Bootcamps are typically longer face to face sessions that extend a typical 1 or 2 hour workshop to a 4-5 hour immersive experience. These sessions provide both a higher level overview of the theoretical foundations of the topic while remaining both practically-based and practice focused. The goal of this more intensive training is to bridge the motivational and knowledge gap between “knowing” and “doing”, where faculty can learn how to develop, facilitate, and assess strategies for innovative teaching.

The practical focus of bootcamps also extends to the administrative and logistical considerations for offering extended sessions, as faculty may be more likely to commit to a single, one time offering rather than multiple workshops spread over a term. These sessions are also easy to implement and often follow a straightforward structure, beginning with an overview of theory before turning to facilitated exercises where this theory is put into practice. With faculty availability often being in short supply, these bootcamps are attractive opportunities for conveniently scheduled professional development. Faculty are also often looking for more in depth explorations of particular topics, which can be accomplished in the longer bootcamp session. Faculty are also attracted to the opportunity to engage and interact with colleagues, which is a key feature of a bootcamp session. Rather than only passively receiving information, bootcamps allow faculty to network and share ideas with their colleagues, which can be particularly motivating as they learn from others that these types of innovative practices are indeed possible across a wide range of settings and disciplines. Bootcamps also offer the additional benefit of allowing us as Educational Developers to model effective pedagogy as, for example, we can facilitate reflective dialogue in a session on experiential education that highlights the benefits of reflection for deeper learning.

A typical bootcamp session will incorporate a hybrid mix of low tech and high tech opportunities for presentation and facilitation, often using technology to demonstrate ideas and share information while also using printed templates or other paper resources to guide interactive discussions where faculty begin to consider how to incorporate this information into their practice. Feedback from faculty has continued to emphasize the need to provide concrete, relevant examples that can offer multiple suggestions for what this theory may look like in practices across a diverse range of disciplines. In this sense, the goal of a bootcamp is to offer the “how” of a theory or topic; faculty who elect to attend these sessions have often already “bought in” to the topic and do not need much convincing of its importance. Rather, the goal now is to help them connect strategies and tools to their unique classroom context such that the work involved in doing so becomes both meaningful and manageable.

The feedback I received at the session was overwhelmingly positive. Many instructors and administrators were quite excited about the idea of providing more intensive professional development opportunities, and were particularly attracted to the idea of how to better motivate and support instructors in developing a more innovative set of pedagogical practices. There was also some interesting discussion on the use of technology in facilitating a virtual bootcamp session. A possible next step in further developing these sessions may be to consider how faculty may be able to virtually participate in a bootcamp experience. With continued and emerging conversations about exploring technology for pedagogy, this is a timely consideration as we continue to work to model best practices in teaching and learning.

A copy of my Contact North presentation is available to be viewed. I would love your thoughts on whether these bootcamp sessions might be valuable additions to your own training and development curriculum.

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