It was Friday, March 12, 2020—the end of a long week of “What Ifs.” What if Covid-19 spreads across the U.S.? What if our university
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Every higher ed administrator knows that mental health services are becoming increasingly important on-campus. Fewer know that they are also important for students who study primarily or entirely online. This is the contention of Bonny Barr of Creighton University.
One of the three key tenets of metacognitive engagement in the classroom is teaching students heuristic strategies specific to the subject matter (Pintrich, 2002; Bembenutty, 2009). The other two are teaching students when to use the strategies and how to self-assess the successful use of those strategies. When considering critical thinking classes, this might involve teaching specific problem solving strategies, like the difference between permutations and combinations, as well as when each should be applied. However, other types of strategies could be beneficial, such as templates for assignments, video instructions, and detailed rubrics for self-assessment.
If some faculty do not fully embrace their role as academic advisor, don’t assume that they are indifferent to students’ needs or feel that advising is strictly a student affairs function. More likely, this reluctance is due to a lack of preparation and support.
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.
Earlier this year, we kicked off the semester with a faculty development workshop on academic customer service. Academic customer service is a hot and contentious topic on many college campuses, with faculty often reeling at the suggestion that students are customers (and therefore “always right”) or that education is a product intended for consumption. The feedback from our session in August was prickly and some of the comments demonstrated that we were in worse shape than I imagined.
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.
Adult learners typically have very specific reasons for taking online courses and are usually highly motivated. They also bring a wealth of experience. However, being away from formal learning and having to adapt to the online learning environment can be quite challenging even for the most motivated and intelligent students.