HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
For baseball fans and players, springtime can only mean one thing: spring training. Every year professional baseball players head to Arizona or Florida to hone their craft. These are professionals mind you, but they continue to spend hours each year working on many of the same things Little Leaguers work on during the start of their seasons—throwing, catching, hitting, base running, and so forth.
As they make minor adjustments in these fundamentals of the game, the overall outcome is a major improvement. The same is true for faculty who remain mindful of their fundamentals, and make small, incremental improvements to their teaching.
I dread the moments when I look out into a classroom and see a collection of blank stares or thumbs clicking on tiny keypads: a pool of disengaged students, despite what I thought was a student-centered activity. Recently, I have been considering how teachers (me specifically) undermine our own efforts to engage students.
When I started teaching 27 years ago, like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz I believed that just having a brain would make me successful. And so each class session I would literally “take the stage” on a raised platform to deliver what was in my head and on my papers. Even though there were 60 students in the class, there could just as well have been none because I basically ignored the students. They were objects, sponges whose task was to absorb course content.
Sometimes a teachable moment occurs when a student is stuck, other times it’s when a topic has sparked her interest. In an email interview, Eric Frierson, an instructional technology librarian at the University of Texas–Arlington, shares strategies for online instructors to capitalize on both types of teachable moments.
Some students are reluctant to enroll in online courses, afraid they will miss some of the social aspects of the face-to-face classroom. For these students, it makes sense to incorporate online synchronous sessions to provide some of the benefits of the face-to-face class while maintaining most of the flexibility of an asynchronous online course.
Last week, while teaching Dante’s Inferno, I moderated a lively two-day class discussion about medieval and modern values and religion. How did Dante define virtue? How do we define it? For Dante, why was lust not as terrible a sin as theft of property? Why did his age consider gluttony a moral failing rather than a self-destructive behavior that one can take to Jenny Craig?
On top of everything college faculty are responsible for, there’s one that may be easy to overlook or even deem as unnecessary: Teaching students how to be students. Do so at your peril because most students need a little help understanding and practicing the skills and behaviors they need to succeed.
As a history major I usually found most of my history courses pretty interesting. Certainly some were more interesting than others but I think a lot of that had more to do with the instructor than the content. Of course not every student who takes a history class course plans to major in it, which is why I love it when I hear about a history professor (or any educator for that matter) doing innovative things to engage students in one of those “core courses” many students often dread.