examining textbooks

So, What is the Real Problem?

In “Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology” we talked about using backward course design to align technology with the course materials and learning activities.

How does this design approach play out in today’s college classroom? Let’s look at “Mary.”

Mary is an advertising instructor who is frustrated with the way her large-enrollment introductory class is going. She has several problems that she doesn’t know how to solve—problems that we all face in our teaching.

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Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology

We’ve all experienced failed learning activities, such as painful class sessions, online disasters, or group projects gone wrong.

When we analyze what went wrong, we usually wring our hands and lament the state of college students today, but is it possible that we ourselves are the inadvertent cause of many of these problems? Could our lack of intentional planning be the issue?

Misalignment in our classes can cause many problems. Consider what happens when the wheels of your vehicle are out of alignment. The tires aren’t all pointing in the same direction, making it difficult to steer, causing undue strain and wear, and possibly endangering the safety of those in the car.

The same things can happen when we teach a class that is out of alignment. It’s hard to direct the flow of learning; learning activities and assessments become more burdensome than they need to be; and the safety and well-being of those in the car, so to speak, are unnecessarily put at risk.

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Attacking Problems as a Novice Learner

My wiper blades needed to be replaced. I hate these kinds of tasks; they make me feel completely inadequate. But I was doing a lot of reading about learning, and I was looking for concrete examples in my own life to help me better understand the theory and practice of learning. Knowledge transfer, constructivism, scaffolding, and making thinking visible were all pretty new ideas to me.

So, I approached the task as a learning opportunity. I gave myself every advantage—no rain, moderate temps, a Saturday morning with no commitments. I prepared deliberately—a full stomach, empty bladder, and the entire toolbox next to the car. But my resolve was shaken with the very first task. Packaging these days requires the jaws of life. After struggling with the pliers and breaking a fingernail, I went inside for the heavy-duty scissors and was once again ready to get started.

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Steps concept

Refresh Your Course: Step-by-Step

You’ve decided you need to update, redesign, refresh your course. Maybe for your own reasons, such poor student performance. Or perhaps you want to try a new technique or a tool. Or maybe your reasons are external, such as a change in the curriculum or new material or a new text.

Most instructors simply don't have enough time to do everything we'd like to do in our teaching, including redesigning our courses. I’d like to share my process, which will allow you to be systematic about how you go about changing your course, keeping it fresh for you and for your students—and letting learning happen the way we intend it to.

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Using Brief Interventions to Maximize Student Learning [Transcript]

The shift toward student-centered learning has transformed our classrooms, and it’s no longer enough to be a subject-matter expert. Instructors have to not only know the material their students need to learn, but they also have to have a reasonably good grasp of how students learn it.

The task is to master both, because that’s when the real learning magic happens. That’s the idea behind cognitive theory and its application in higher education. And while it took you years of study to earn credentials in your discipline, you can learn how to apply relevant aspects of cognitive theory to your courses in far less time.

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