HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
The amount of multitasking students do during class and while studying is alarming. Consistently, in response to surveys, more than 85% of students say they have their phones on in class, are looking at texts as they come in and during class, and between 70 and 90% say they respond to texts in class. And this is happening in courses with policies that prohibit or significantly curtail the use of electronic devices.
Recent pedagogical interests have me wading through research on multi-tasking and revisiting what’s happening with cheating. In both cases, most of us have policies that prohibit, or in the case of electronic devices, curtail the activity. Evidence of the ineffectiveness of policies in both areas is pretty overwhelming. Lots of students are cheating and using phones in class. Thinking about it, I’m not sure other common policies such as those on attendance, deadlines, and participation are all that stunningly successful either. I’m wondering why and guessing there’s a whole constellation of reasons.
Cheating among college students remains rampant. Our institutional and/or course policies aren’t stopping much of it. There are lots of reasons why, which we could debate, but the more profitable conversation is how we get students to realize that cheating hurts them. I don’t think they consider the personal consequences, so that’s the goal of this memo, framed like others that have appeared in the blog. You are welcome to revise it, make the language your own, and share it as you see fit with students. Will it stop cheating? Not likely, but it might make some students realize the consequences go well beyond getting caught.
Are students taking their end-of-course evaluation responsibilities seriously? Many institutions ask them to evaluate every course and to do so at a time when they’re busy with final assignments and stressed about upcoming exams. Response rates have also fallen at many places that now have students provide their feedback online. And who hasn’t gotten one or two undeserved low ratings—say, on a question about instructor availability when the instructor regularly came early to class, never missed a class, and faithfully kept office hours? Are students even reading the questions?
The “find and replace” feature in Word quickly makes an old syllabus ready for a new course. Use it too many times and thinking about the course settles into a comfortable rut. Yes, we may change more than just the dates, but when was the last time we considered something beyond what needs to go on the syllabus? The literature answers that question with a few definitive conclusions and a host of possibilities. Here are some thoughts, offered with just a bit of provocation, in the hopes they might reenergize our thinking about the syllabus and what it can accomplish in the course, for students and for the teacher.
Teachers and students can give each other priceless gifts. “Professor Jones changed my life!” The comment is usually followed by the story of a teacher in love with content, students, and learning. How many times have I told the story of my advisor who was the first person to suggest I could be a college professor? We love to hear and tell these stories because they are remarkable and inspiring. A student and a teacher connect during one small segment of the student’s life, yet through that tiny window of time can blow a gust strong enough to change the direction of that life.
I continue to be a huge fan of personal narratives, those accounts of teaching experiences from which the author and the reader learn much. They’re scholarly, thoughtful, and intellectual. They may start with “here’s what happened to me” but that launchpad rockets the author and reader to reflection, analysis, critique, and new worlds of understanding. These pieces of scholarship are good reading, even at the end of a long day. I strongly believe that our literature on teaching and learning is being impoverished by the reluctance of so many periodicals to publish these personal narratives.
We already do give students some choices. We let them choose paper topics, decide what to do for group projects, select subjects for artwork—and we’ve seen them struggle to make those choices. Most students don’t see selecting content as an opportunity to explore an area of interest, but rather an added burden of now trying to figure out what the teacher wants.
“Even with years of teaching experience since then [grad school TA experience], there were still areas of my pedagogy that remained as they always had been—unexamined and essentially running on autopilot.” So writes Kevin Gannon in an excellent piece on redesigning his exams (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2017). I appreciate the honesty of his admission and suspect it resonates with many of us.
Some of what’s unexamined in the practice of many faculty are what seem like intractable problems—say cramming and procrastination. Students have procrastinated for decades—some of us did when we were students and a few (?) of us still do. It’s a perennial problem for anyone who teaches, there can’t possibly be a solution or someone would have come up with it by now. In fact, that was basically the conclusion of a colleague who wrote to me recently. “My students procrastinate. It compromises the quality of their work and diminishes what they learn, but I’ve come to accept it as a given.”