For more than nine years, I have been deeply interested in metacognition as it applies to the art and science of teaching. I have also been involved in taking non-professional teachers and training them to be both content area experts and more than adequate teachers in the classroom. This can be a tough endeavor as people like to teach in non-traditional schools for a variety of reasons and some are not always interested in becoming teachers qua teachers. Worse are those who feel being a subject matter expert is enough because as long as they’re talking, the students must be learning, right?
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Today’s college instructors are expected not only to be engaging in their classes, but to engage students outside the classroom. Whether it’s supervising service-learning, taking students to professional conferences, leading study sessions in coffee houses, or inviting students into our homes, faculty are now expected to be with students in ways that change the kinds of relationships teachers and students have in the classroom. Teachers now interact with their students in a variety of contexts, many of them informal and some of them purely social. These new roles blur the line between being friendly toward students and being a friend of students. This matters whether you’ve been teaching for a while and no longer look like a student or whether your academic career is just starting. All faculty need to know how to build supportive and positive, but businesslike, relationships with students.
In reviewing the research on active learning in statistics, the authors of the article cited below, who are statistics faculty themselves, found some research in which certain active learning experiences did not produce measurable gains on exam performance. They “suspect the key components of successful active learning approaches are using activities to explain concepts and requiring students to demonstrate that they understand these concepts by having them answer very specific rather than general questions.” (p. 3)
Integrating technology with appropriate teaching strategies can help stimulate participation and create a student-centered atmosphere conducive to learning. One technology shown particularly successful in boosting student engagement is clickers (Martyn, 2007). In fact, a research study found that student test scores were significantly higher when clickers were used as part of an in-class lecture as compared to a different section of the same class that didn’t use clickers (Mayer, Stull, DeLeeuw, Ameroth, Bimber, Chun, et al. 2009).
As I left my desk to attend the faculty development workshop, I picked up four thank-you cards for the rotations program, a report to read, and a newsletter to edit. I’ve been to dozens of development seminars, and I’ve learned to be prepared with something else to do in case the presenter is mind-numbingly boring. The pleasant surprise of the morning was that the speaker engaged us in learning for more than three hours! How did he do that?
Motivating students is one of the most difficult challenges for any faculty member, but lighting the fire is critical to ensuring active, dynamic classes. Alice Cassidy, PhD, principal of In View Educational and Professional Development and a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, has devised a four-step process to motivate students for a more stimulating class for students and faculty alike.
In the typical college classroom a small handful of students make the vast majority of comments. As a teacher you want to create a classroom environment that helps students of various learning styles and personalities to feel comfortable enough to contribute as well as understand the importance of class preparation and active participation. To reach this goal requires a constant balancing act of encouraging quiet, reflective students to speak up and, occasionally, asking the most active contributors to hold back from commenting in order to give others a chance.
And what in the world might a Google jockey be? In a first-year seminar on environmental sustainability, the Google jockey was a student who surfed the Web for material related to the discussion topic or lecture and then displayed that material in real time to the rest of the class. In this case, the student was a senior biochemistry major described in the article as “bright” and “engaged.” But don’t rule out this interesting strategy if you don’t have this kind of student preceptor at your disposal.
The elderly shop owner opposes a corporation that wants to build a plant in her town. She’s afraid that its products, similar to the ones she manufactures, will drive her out of business. At 70, it’s too late in her life to start over and, even though the corporation says it will hire locally, she doubts it will hire someone her age. Besides, after a lifetime of running her own business, she doesn’t want to work for someone else. How can she convince her fellow townspeople to rally against the corporation?
The typical college student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful: