Can you teach students to be creative? Most of us would say no. It’s more like trying to teach for it—encouraging it, promoting it, acknowledging when it happens, and rewarding it. Despite the difficulties associated with teaching creativity, teachers shouldn’t be excused from trying to cultivate its development. Is there a profession where creative thinking isn’t needed? Is there a problem that wouldn’t benefit from a creative solution? The authors of the article referenced below ask the follow-up question relevant to those of us in higher education: “Where will students get the opportunity to learn and practice creative thinking if it is not embedded throughout the curriculum?” (p. 51)
I love stories; stories about life, our personal experiences, the happy and the sad. Stories teach us about how the world sometimes works and how we relate to it. When I was young, I used to love to hear my parents talk about their experiences when they were young. Their stories gave me the opportunity to learn not only about their lives, but also gave me a better understanding of my culture, the traditions of my family, and its history. In a sense, these stories gave me a better understanding of myself. Stories put into context information that would otherwise remain fragmented, pieces of this and that, thrown into a catchall closet in which items are tossed and usually hopelessly lost.
My colleague, Lolita Paff, has been exploring student attitudes and beliefs about participation. Most of her beginning economics and accounting students describe themselves as “limited” or “non-participants.” They say they don’t participate because they don’t want to look foolish in front of their peers or they learn better by listening. At this point, she has gathered some rather compelling data that grading isn’t motivating her students to participate more. “I had been pretty strongly in the if-you-grade-it-they-will-do-it camp. The evidence surprised me and made me rethink grading participation,” she writes.
The rapid growth and popularity of online learning is necessitating the creation of online courses that actively engage learners. Research has shown that effective integration of multimedia that is content relevant and pedagogically sound can be a valuable teaching tool for facilitating student learning (Mandernach, 2009).
A line of research (done mostly in Australia and Great Britain) has been exploring what prompts students to opt for deep or surface approaches to learning. So far this research has established strong links between the approaches taken to teaching and those taken to learning. If teachers are focused on covering large amounts of content and do so with few attempts to involve and engage students, students tend to learn the material by memorizing it, often without much understanding of it. This new work involved a 388-student cohort enrolled in a first-year biology course and explored the relationship between the ways students emotionally experience a course and the approach that they take to learning in the course.
Most teachers daily confront the reality that student attention wanders in class. They can be seen nodding off, sleeping, gazing distractedly at some point other than the front of the room, texting, or working on something for another class. It’s a problem, and one that teachers often find hard not to take personally. Dealing with the emotional reaction engendered by inattention is easier when it’s more fully understood, and here’s an example that illustrates why.
We often wonder what we can do to help students engage with the material so they can learn it at a deeper level. Students don’t make that an easy task. They arrive in class having not read the material or having not thought about it in meaningful ways, and that keeps them from being engaged in class. Several years ago, I read George Kuh’s article “What Student Engagement Data Tell Us about College Readiness,” in which he writes, “Students who talk about substantive matters with faculty and peers are challenged to perform at high levels, and receive frequent feedback on their performance typically get better grades, are more satisfied with college, and are more likely to persist” (Peer Review, January 1, 2007, p. 4; italics mine). Here are three ways I try to provide feedback that engages students and not overwhelm myself with grading tasks in the process.
It is difficult to teach if students are unprepared to learn. In a 2013 Faculty Focus reader survey, faculty were asked to rank their biggest day-to-day challenges. “Students who are not prepared for the rigors of college” and “Students who come to class unprepared” finished in a statistical dead heat as the #1 challenge; roughly 30% of the respondees rated both challenges as “very problematic.”
Underachievement in college students is linked to lack of motivation (Balduf, 2009 and references therein). Two major factors that contribute to poor motivation are inability of students to see the relevance of classroom activities to their chosen careers (Glynn et al., 2009) and lack of a sense of autonomy (Reeve and Jang, 2006; Reeve, 2009).
As an online instructor, I can fulfill the minimum requirements of the university regarding interacting with students, or I can create a learning environment that facilitates student engagement in the classroom. Students enroll in online classes because of the need for scheduling flexibility, work-life-school balance, costs, and convenience. Although online learning holds many advantages, the potential drawbacks revolve around the lack of personal interaction between the instructor and student, as well as the student-to-student contact. Keeping students engaged in the course is a vital function of an effective instructor.