HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
It was soon after my son enrolled in a local junior college that I realized something was wrong. Success, which seemed to come so easy to him in high school, was suddenly out of reach. In fact, he was failing every course! I quickly learned that in high school he did not have to exert any effort and was taught to simply memorize material.
A 2015 survey of Faculty Focus readers found that the number one barrier preventing faculty from implementing the flipped classroom model and other active learning experiences into their courses is TIME. Faculty reported they don’t have time to plan extra learner-centered activities, due to increasing responsibilities, and they don’t have time to implement the activities in class because there’s too much content to cover.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. But, you can still create engaging learning experiences for students. And you can do it in 10 minutes (or less).
As the associate director at Tulane’s Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching (CELT), I work with faculty to help them transform their classrooms into more engaged spaces. One way to do that is by creating opportunities for interaction between the professor and the students and between the students themselves. I always start the conversation on this topic with three questions:
- What is the purpose of making a class interactive?
- What does an interactive class look like?
- What gets in the way of you creating a more interactive space in your classroom?
First, we want everyone reading this to go ahead and lower their expectations. While the two of us are big fans of comedy and using humor in many walks of life, we aren’t terribly funny ourselves. But here’s the thing: that’s sort of the point. While we’re not comedians, we use humor as a teaching tool. And so can you!
Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).
As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grant, Martins worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop a plan that would give students the opportunity to spend more time with lecture content as well as provide TAs with feedback on how students were absorbing the material. Over the course of several semesters Martins redesigned the course using the flipped classroom model and incorporated recorded video lectures and Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) techniques that promote the use of class time for more active learning.
When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.
When students become directly engaged in the learning process, they take ownership of their education. The following learning activities have helped me to engage students in and outside the classroom. The strategies also help keep my teaching relevant, fresh, and creative.
Silence filled the classroom when the grimacing woman wearing layers of torn sweatshirts and mismatched work boots kicked an empty desk by the door. She fished out a wrinkled paper from her jean’s front pocket and waved it high in the air. “The court sent me,” she said, looking directly into the eyes of a startled young freshman. “And I want to know, who’s gonna make me stay?” Rolling the document into a ball, she quickly darted to the back of the room and dropped it onto the desk of the biggest guy in the room. She asked him, “Is it you?”
Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.