In more than 20 years of teaching, I have learned that too much information frustrates rather than inspires students. Today, however, with a few clicks of the computer mouse, any teacher can retrieve an overabundance of information. What is more, courseware makes distributing this information to students amazingly easy. As a result, teachers risk (unintentionally) giving students much more information than they can reasonably digest, including electronic texts, supplementary texts, and background information. The key to avoiding information overload is remembering course goals.
It was an idea for framing an exam review session, and it came to me at 3 a.m. in one of those slightly desperate bursts of inspiration that dare us to do something different and unconventional. That was five years ago. Since then I’ve used the idea in undergraduate survey courses, graduate seminars, and lots of other courses in between. I’ve decided it’s a good idea and worth sharing with others.
I had occasion this week to reread one of my favorite articles. In this piece Marshall Gregory explores teaching 18th Century British poetry, content he loves but that his students don’t find particularly compelling. Gregory’s honesty is at times brutal—the article is such a great example of how critical reflection can lead a teacher to new insights and deeper understandings.
How many major concepts are you covering in the courses you teach? Do you know? Have you ever tried to list them? I have to be honest and say I never did. But I do see how beneficial it might have been. First off, generating the list seems like a very effective way to clarify what the course is really about—to get a handle on the content domain of the course. Then, with the list in hand, you can prioritize the concepts, maybe see a different way of ordering them or a way of better using content to support them.