Sometimes, in informal conversations with colleagues, I hear a statement like this, “Yeah, not a great semester, I doled out a lot of C’s.” I wonder, did this professor create learning goals that were unobtainable by most of the class or did this professor lack the skills to facilitate learning? I present this provocative lead-in as an invitation to reflect upon our presuppositions regarding grading.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development. We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit. We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content. Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance.
I want to explain the use of what I call “frameworks” in my college teaching. I have used them during nine years of teaching graduate and undergraduate classes, and my students tell me that they are particularly helpful. Although I teach in Utica College’s Education program, this tool has application across a broad number of disciplines and courses at a variety of levels.
Most students hate cumulative exams, largely because of the sheer volume of course material they need to study and demonstrate proficiency in. But there’s another reason, especially in courses where there are formulas or specific tools that need to be used, and it has to do with how well they truly understand the course material.
A new edition of a classic book on the curriculum suggests eight lessons from the learning literature with implications for course and curriculum planning. Any list like this tends to simplify a lot of complicated research and offer generalizations that apply most, but certainly not all, of the time. Despite these caveats, lists like this are valuable. They give busy faculty a sense of the landscape and offer principles that can guide decision making, in this case about courses and curricula.
Students frequently wonder and sometimes ask, “Why are we doing this? Why do I need to know this? Why are we spending so much time on this? Why do we have to do this busywork?”
When students don’t see the connection between the content and activities of the course and their future lives, they question what’s happening and what we ask them to do. Research confirms that perceived relevance is a critical factor in maintaining student interest and motivation. It also contributes to higher student ratings on course evaluations.
More and more colleges and universities are developing general education curricula that include courses involving critical reflection, including how the various disciplines address some of the big questions facing today’s society. But be warned, critical reflection is not for the faint of heart.
There’s a tacit rule that most college teachers abide by: I won’t mess with your course if you agree not to mess with mine. Gerald Graff observes and asks, “This rules suits the teacher, but how well does it serve students?” (p. 155)
When it comes to college students and studying, the general rule most first-year students hear goes something like this. “For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying and working on assignments for the course.” For a full-time student carrying 12 credits that equals at least 24 hours of studying per week.
Academically Adrift is provoking plenty of discussion throughout American higher education, and with good reason. While there are valid concerns about the methodology, instrumentation and overreaching inferences of Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s research study, many of their conclusions are important ones that have been confirmed by others.