by Meredith Dault
March 1, 2011
Chi Yan Lam always knew he was interested in education, but it took him some time to realize he didn’t want to be a classroom teacher. Though he did his undergrad degree in Life Sciences and Concurrent Education at Queen’s, ultimately, he didn’t end up in the classroom. “Instead of finishing with teacher education, I went straight into my Master’s degree program,” he explains with a laugh. “I thought the Master’s would be more me. I guess I wanted to deal with the bigger picture in education.”
Now, rather than working directly with kids, his focus is teacher education. He’s particularly interested in using social media, and Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, to help teacher-candidates create peer networks useful in solving problems and refining their thinking when they’re in the classroom. “The problem we face in educating teacher candidates about classroom assessment is that we have limited class time (8 hours),” explains Lam, “and the context we teach them in is a large venue (350) which lends itself largely to lecture-learning” The difficulties arise, explains Lam, when teachers find themselves on their own in classrooms, only to find that they are unsure about how to enact classroom assessment in a way consistent with good practice -- in other words, how to figure out whether or not students are learning, and to use assessment to support learning.
That’s why Lam’s pilot project is linking teacher candidates with instructors, experts in the field, and each other using social media, helping them reconsider what is good teaching and assessment practices when they’re on-the-job. “It’s a totally different way of participating in the learning process,” he explains, pointing at a message he has just received from a student teacher through Twitter. “For example, this person is asking whether a lesson and the assessment are similar to the chicken and egg problem -- so do we design the test first, or the lesson first?” Within minutes, input has come flooding in from other people. Lam, who responded first, smiles proudly. “I was able to connect her to resources immediately.”
Lam, 23, whose parents are both teachers, seems to have a natural inclination for education. Besides being the head don at Jean Royce Hall, on West Campus, Lam also runs his own company, First EducAid, which specializes in first aid training. A certified First Aid and Lifesaving Instructor Trainer with Red Cross and the Lifesaving Society, Lam started his business while a third year undergraduate student and currently teaches students across a number of different faculties, including nursing science.
Ultimately, Lam, who is supervised by Dr. Lyn Shulha, says that what compels him is a fundamental interest in teaching and learning -- particularly how it is having to adapt in a world where technology is changing so rapidly and the need to explore and exploit the potentials and possibilities they might offer for learning. “It’s like the latest medicine,” he says, drawing a connection to medical training, “where there is a need to keep up with the latest research on treatment options and procedures. Teachers working in schools aren’t always afforded the opportunity to be up-to-date. The real test is to see if this helps the teachers out there in the field.” Rather than seeing teaching as a “static profession,” Lam says it’s actually always changing. “So in this case, it’s not like medicine where you can keep zeroing in on the gene that is defective. Because in society, people are always changing, and demographics are changing. I would argue, we’ve got to keep moving forward with educational research!” For Lam, that means embracing technology and using it to help teachers teach better.
Lam will be starting his PhD at Queen’s in September, and is open to whatever comes next. “The thing is, there is huge potential here,” he says excitedly about using Web 2.0 for teaching. “We’re only at the beginning of this!” As he says it, he gets another Tweet, also responding to the first teacher’s query. He’s clearly excited to see them helping one another. “It’s so cool!”