“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is master of himself if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”
William James, (1842 – 1910)
Looking out at our students in classrooms today, with their texting, Facebook updates, Instagram messages, e-mail checking, Google searches, and tweeting, it’s hard to imagine what was so distracting for college students more than 100 years ago when James made this statement. Yet, even then, he recognized the propensity of the mind to constantly seek novel material, to leap from thought to image to belief to fear to desire to judgment and back again — all following one’s own quirky train of thought resembling the chaotic movements of a swarm of bees around a hive. Time passes through a warped dimension when the student finally returns to some semblance of attention, unaware of all the cognitive detours taken between points A and B. And that’s just the internal process, prompted by nothing in particular. How much more distraction is invited by today’s mobile technology?
I’ve been reading some old issues of The Teaching Professor newsletter and ran across a lovely piece by William Reinsmith on learning moments. He’s writing about those times when students get it, when something turns the lights on and they glow with understanding. It may be a moment when they finally figure out how to do so something—a long elusive skill or a solution to a problem. Other times it’s a moment of insight, often a possibility or explanation that had never crossed their minds, or a set of ideas that come together and create a new perspective on a familiar issue.
Whether it’s a student who is texting during class, an online student who makes minimal comments to the discussion board, or a teacher who marches nonstop through mountains of material, the learning environment is defined by a combination of individual behaviors, and everybody contributes to what that environment becomes.
The March 12, 2014 post raised issues about those students who really don’t want to work with others in groups … “lone wolves” as they’re called in the literature. Your responses raised a number of issues. I thought it might be worth exploring some of them a bit further.
Many of the comments defended the lone wolves, pointing out that their good academic performance could be compromised by having to work in a group. Did anyone comment about those social learners (whose existence is also well documented in the research) who do well working in groups? We require those students to spend time listening and learning alone, experiences that potentially compromise their academic performance.
Teaching at a historically black university can have its obstacles; especially when you are not African American. One of the main obstacles for me was how I was viewed by the students — I often felt that students did not or could not relate to me. Standing before them, I did not have the appearance of one who has ever encountered any difficulties in my lifetime or career. As a result, my students did not find me very approachable in spite of the fact that I had mentioned many times that I was available during office hours and would be happy to speak with anyone. Once the students would make the effort to stop by my office, it seemed that they would learn that I am much more approachable than they had originally imagined.
The first day of class is an important time. In addition to the usual housekeeping tasks that need to be accomplished, there are other critical functions of the first day of class – not the least of which involves setting the tone for the course.
When it comes to course design, is the goal to help your students understand concepts, enable future retrieval of concepts, or enable future retrieval of concepts and apply them in real-world situations? To create more effective learning environments, and minimize forgetting, some faculty are turning to Situation-based Learning Design (SBLD), which aligns learning context with performance context.
If you’re new to the online teaching experience, especially if you’re considering a hybrid course, here are some tips you might find helpful.