How do we make learning messy and unpredictable for our students—and why? I posed this question to the members of the Teaching Professor group on LinkedIn in July, and a lively and insightful discussion immediately began. This article is based upon the insights shared in the discussion.
Terence Favero begins where many teachers are with respect to review sessions. Students request them. Teachers don’t like to give up class time to essentially go over material they’ve already covered. It’s difficult to find a time that works for everyone—students don’t want to come in early, and professors don’t want to review at bedtime. Then there’s the issue of who shows up for the review session. Usually, it’s not the students who most need to be there. And finally, there’s how review sessions are generally structured. Students ask questions, which the professor answers, while the students take notes. Favero notes, “Rarely does this approach lead to deep learning or prepare students for an exam.” (p. 247)
Here are some survey results worth mulling over. A group of life sciences faculty were asked about teaching students “science process skills”—identified as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, collaborative work, and critical analysis of primary literature.
Do you pass back exams, a set of papers or grades on some other student project and offer generic comments on what the class did and didn’t do well on the assignment? Most of us do, and for good reasons. The feedback gives students the chance to compare their work with that done by the rest of class, which can build more accurate self-assessment skills.
When first visualizing an online mathematics course, I saw a barren, text-only environment where students learned primarily from the textbook and where instructors provided text-based direction, clarification, and assistance. But typing is not teaching and reading is not learning. Students deserve more from online courses than regurgitated textbooks and opportunities to teach themselves. With today’s technology, we can create a rich learning environment.
Problem solving is “what you do when you don’t know what to do.”
What a simple, straightforward definition for something often defined in much more complex ways. But problem solving doesn’t always mean the same thing. It might be the solution to a specific problem, like those that appear on math quizzes, or it might be a collection of possibilities that respond to a complex open-ended problem. But however it’s defined, problem solving is one of those skills all teachers aspire to have their students develop.