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Educating the world: Alumni bring student-led teaching around the world

Kathryn Kao

May 29, 2019

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You can find College of Education alumni in 76 countries around the world. Those who land in a classroom setting have the unique opportunity to combine the culture of the country with student-focused teaching methods they learned at the University of Georgia.

Whether they are teaching at the K-12 or college level, global educators are incorporating concepts, such as group activities, flipped classrooms, and student-centered learning, into the curriculum. In some cases, they're even creating entirely new programs—and in the process, changing the way teaching looks in the classroom and beyond.

Here are the stories of just a handful of our graduates who are applying the lessons they've learned at the UGA College of Education on a global scale.

Jamie Tuttle Amplifying student voices
Jamie Tuttle's focus never strays away from his students and their voices.

Whether it's through weekly student-centered meetings or a showcasing of student talent, Tuttle (M.Ed. '05) and the administrative team at Avenues: The World School in São Paulo, Brazil, have developed a plan to make the school environment feel less like an academic institution and more like a community of diverse minds.

"We have kids who are coming from over 100 different schools, and they all have different world views and ways of looking at the world," says Tuttle, who counsels students in grades six through nine. "It's challenging, but it's also our greatest strength as a school."

Avenues is an international private school for infants and students through grade 12. It opened its first campus in New York City in 2012, and last year opened its second location in São Paulo. Tuttle has been working ever since as the dean of students for the secondary division.

The Massachusetts native, who previously served as the lead middle school counselor for the Clarke County School District, hosts student-centered meetings every week for groups of about 20 to 25 students, as well as individuals, where they discuss issues they may be experiencing socially, emotionally, or academically. During these guidance sessions, students from diverse backgrounds come together to discuss their feelings in an environment that Tuttle says is critical for student growth and development.

"We need to foster an environment that's both emotionally and physically safe, especially in times like today where people tend to be so polarized, whether it's for their political values or belief systems," he says. "The key is having good teachers and people who believe in the philosophy and mission that students are first. It's good to have honest and transparent conversations with students."

These conversations require students to use a range of skills, including collaboration, communication, critical thinking, perseverance, and metacognition. Whether they are engaged in project-based learning, student-led conferences, or general conversations with teachers, students are able to use these skills to focus on succeeding not only in the classroom, but in the real world.

"I've always been an advocate for student voice," he says. "I think that's my main purpose as a dean and counselor. I really want students to have a voice, whether that's showcasing their talents and passions or allowing students the space they need for decision-making or to talk about discipline and norms."

Alyssa LeClaire Letting kids choose
Across the continent in Medellin, Colombia, Alyssa LeClaire (M.Ed. '15), a fourth-grade teacher at the Columbus School, shares the same student-centric values as Tuttle.

As a graduate of the College's English education program, LeClaire applies many of the teaching strategies she learned at UGA to her lessons abroad, including reading and writing workshops and interactive read-aloud time with her young students.

"For English language learners, read aloud, in terms of vocabulary acquisition, is so important," says LeClaire, who has been teaching students in Colombia for three years. "If students are interacting and thinking about the text, it's much more engaging, and generally you can tell they know what's going on."

Every morning, she spends two hours planning her day, which she says also helps increase collaboration among her colleagues. Together, they developed a new curriculum that not only enhances students' English-speaking abilities, but also integrates science instruction with coding, robotics, and programming. The pilot program, which has been implemented in all fourth- and fifth-grade classes, draws inspiration from biomimicry, or the imitation of models. With the help of a technology coach, students learn coding by copying the exact movements and characteristics of various animals and translating them into a new invention.

No matter the topic or subject, LeClaire says it's important to give her students the ability to make choices, whether that's letting them pick their own books to read in class or giving them the opportunity to explore a new question they feel passionate about sharing with others.

Next year, LeClaire will relocate to Bogotá, Colombia, to teach fifth grade, where she hopes to continue to transform the student experience. "This is something I feel really passionate about because that was integral to my education, and I see how much kids grow when they're able to have some semblance of choice when it comes to reading and writing instruction."

Yohan Hwang Active learning
After graduating from the College of Education's TESOL and world language education program in 2016,

Yohan Hwang returned to South Korea eager to flip the country's traditional classroom setting. He now teaches English and culture classes as an assistant professor in the College of Interdisciplinary and Creative Studies at Konyang University in Nonsan, South Korea.

In flipped classrooms, students hone problem-solving skills through active learning techniques, such as watching videos or using online tools that encourage creativity, rather than just listening to lectures.

"It takes more time and effort to prepare for classes like this, but as my students grow and develop as active learners, my role as a teacher also has to change into that of a facilitator and a navigator of knowledge," says Hwang (Ph.D. '16). "I always try to be a facilitator, a mediator, and a curator rather than a knowledge transmitter."

Hwang's TESOL training helped influence this mind-set. Usree Bhattacharya, an assistant professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, says students become aware of international English-teaching considerations and acquire a sense of local and global contexts.

But incorporating experiential learning into a flexible curriculum is difficult in South Korea's strict academic culture. Hwang's goal is to change this outlook and introduce educational reform in his college. He has also helped develop a new teaching and learning method, "creative learning by doing," which creates a structure to take advantage of both flipped and team-based learning.

His vision is beginning to bear fruit: The school has incorporated new technologies, such as iPads, MacBooks, and iTunes U, into every classroom to enhance experiential learning. Last November, Konyang University became the first Apple Distinguished School in South Korea.

"In order to facilitate authentic experiences and real-life applications in and outside of the class, we have veered away from traditional classroom settings where the role of a teacher dwells in an authoritative knowledge giver to a dynamic learning environment where students can perform active and collaborative learning through various experiential team projects," says Hwang.

Creating collaboration
At the Inje University College of Medicine in Busan, South Korea, assistant professor Hyun Jung Ju uses student-centered learning methods, such as small group discussions and presentations. Like Hwang, Ju (Ph.D. '16) says she hopes this model will shift the way Korean college students view group activities.

Compared to American students, Ju says, Koreans tend to prefer lectures and individual learning over collaborative learning, which is often viewed as ineffective. But after receiving her doctoral degree from the Department of Career and Information Studies, Ju decided to use the techniques she learned at UGA, such as argumentation and problem-based learning, to teach her premedical and preclinical students.

The university's two-year preclinical curriculum includes eight integrated organ system courses that each contain one or two problem-based learning modules. For each module, about 100 students are assigned to one of 15 small groups with a faculty tutor. They work together to solve patient problems and engage in clinical reasoning processes.

"It is not easy to engage many Korean students in group activities actively, which is related to learning cultures," says Ju, who also works in the Innovation Center for Medical Education. "Changing cultures is difficult and takes a long time, but it is helpful to provide medical students with many opportunities to experience group learning from their early years. Medical students need to develop clinical reasoning skills, as well as communication and collaborative learning skills through group learning and activities, so they can engage in accurate and timely problem solving when faced with clinical problems and collaborate with other health professionals for improving the quality of patient care in their future professional lives."

Mutlu Şen-Akbulut Talking technology
For Mutlu Şen-Akbulut, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Education and Educational Technology at Boğaziçi University in Turkey, project-based learning also serves as a blueprint for teaching. As an instructor in various subject areas—instructional technologies, material development and courseware design, development and evaluation—she strives to create active learning environments and authentic student experiences.

"I try to design participatory learning activities and manage classroom projects while providing information and offering feedback to facilitate critical thinking," says Şen-Akbulut (Ph.D. '17). "I encourage my students to not be solely consumers of technology, but to use it for productivity and effective teaching."

Şen-Akbulut says she hopes her instruction will help future educators build their lessons around a "learning-by-doing" model. In addition to developing lesson plans, implementing them in schools, and reflecting on teaching experiences during in-class meetings, her students also develop educational software by applying contemporary learning theories and human-computer interaction research into their practice.

Şen-Akbulut says the research experience and skills she gained while attending the College of Education has not only helped her meet the needs of 21st-century students, but it has also enlightened her own research and curiosity in the teaching profession—a sentiment echoed by other educators abroad.

"Our students are always doing something," says Tuttle. "It's not about a teacher standing in the center of the classroom disseminating information and then having students regurgitate that on a test. It's learning by doing."