Recently, in my first-year seminar class, I had an opportunity to re-think my use of group projects. I had set up the task perfectly, or so I thought. I’d anticipated all the typical group project challenges, designed solutions to those challenges, and convinced myself that the final group assignment would be smooth sailing. Except it wasn’t.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Five years ago, I transitioned from a totally lecture-based classroom to a more student-centered, engaging one. Initially, I found that when students were placed in groups, they didn’t necessarily work together. What I discovered was that the activities needed to be structured collaboratively to promote learning.
The wealth of digital information has shifted our focus in higher education from developing critical thinking skills to developing critical information processing skills. Today’s students are digital natives, and many assume these students possess basic research skills because of their natural ease with technology. However, many college students lack important information processing skills to understand electronic material. Grafstein (2002) noted that “Given the seductively easy accessibility of masses of unregulated information, it is imperative that students, from the very beginning of their academic careers, adopt a critical approach to information and develop the ability to evaluate the information they encounter for authenticity, accuracy, credibility, authority, relevance, concealed bias, logical inconsistency, and so on” (p. 199).
The “find and replace” feature in Word quickly makes an old syllabus ready for a new course. Use it too many times and thinking about the course settles into a comfortable rut. Yes, we may change more than just the dates, but when was the last time we considered something beyond what needs to go on the syllabus? The literature answers that question with a few definitive conclusions and a host of possibilities. Here are some thoughts, offered with just a bit of provocation, in the hopes they might reenergize our thinking about the syllabus and what it can accomplish in the course, for students and for the teacher.
I continue to be a huge fan of personal narratives, those accounts of teaching experiences from which the author and the reader learn much. They’re scholarly, thoughtful, and intellectual. They may start with “here’s what happened to me” but that launchpad rockets the author and reader to reflection, analysis, critique, and new worlds of understanding. These pieces of scholarship are good reading, even at the end of a long day. I strongly believe that our literature on teaching and learning is being impoverished by the reluctance of so many periodicals to publish these personal narratives.
How do students think about assignments? A lot never get past the idea that they’re basically unpleasant things faculty make them do. What does interest a lot of students is finding out what the teacher wants in the assignment, not so much what the assignments asks but more seeking insight as to what the teacher “likes.” Discover that and there’s a better chance of a good grade, or so the thinking goes. Unfortunately, very few students look at an assignment and think, now there’s an interesting learning opportunity.
Are there barriers to inclusion lurking in your courses?
After meeting at a diversity and inclusion session of the 2013 Professional and Organization Development Network (POD Network) Conference in Pittsburgh, the three of us set out to develop a tool to help faculty examine their courses through a diversity lens. We were driven by a lack of available resources that provide a practical approach to digging deep into the nuances of one’s course.
There’s a lot to be gained from considering ideas and arguments at odds with current practice. In higher education, many instructional practices are accepted and replicated with little thought. Fortunately, there are a few scholars who keep asking tough questions and challenging conventional thinking. Australian D. Royce Sadler is one of them. His views on feedback and assessment are at odds with the mainstream, but his scholarship is impeccable, well-researched, and logically coherent. His ideas merit our attention, make for rich discussion, and should motivate us to delve into the assumptions that ground current policies and practices.
There’s no discounting the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the course. Outlined below are a few novel activities for using that first day of class to emphasize the importance of learning and the responsibility students share for shaping the classroom environment.
In my corner of the country, we experienced an unusually harsh winter which resulted in many class sessions being canceled due to school closures. Our faculty, and likely other groups of faculty in our region, received an email message that stated:
If you cancel your face-to-face session, I expect a comparable experience will be online for your students.
This is easier said than done. For faculty who don’t regularly deliver coursework online, the expectation to “just move your teaching session online” can be an overwhelming task. It’s not as simple as putting that day’s lesson online. Teaching effectively online requires a skill set that can only be acquired with knowledge and experience. It doesn’t happen automatically.