The explosion of educational technologies in the past decade or so has led everyone to wonder whether the landscape of higher education teaching and learning will be razed and reconstructed in some new formation. But whatever changes might occur to the learning environments we construct for our students, the fundamental principles according to which human beings learn complex new skills and information will not likely undergo a massive transformation anytime soon. Fortunately, we seem to be in the midst of a flowering of new research and ideas from the learning sciences that can help ensure that whatever type of approach we take to the classroom—from traditional lecture to flipped classes—can help maximize student learning in our courses.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Effective Teaching Strategies
One of the activities I most struggle with as an instructor of visual communications is getting students to give thoughtful and detailed critiques of their fellow students’ work. The critique process for students is challenging for several reasons.
1. Many of them are new to the concepts, theories, and language of design, so they don’t necessarily know what to say or how to say it.
2. They don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so they are weary of expressing dislike for another’s design choices.
3. They are terrified by what others may say about their work, so they don’t say anything about anyone else’s.
4. Some simply will not care or have an opinion. As an educator, this is the most frustrating group because I have yet to find a way to combat this level apathy.
How often do you hear the following sentiments from students?
• “I won’t ever use anything I am learning in this class, but I have to take it to graduate.”
• “I don’t care about this class. I just need a passing grade.”
• “I can’t remember anything I learned in that class.”
Granted, not all classes cover interesting material—or at least material that’s of interest to students who may be there only to fulfill a requirement. While we can’t change what needs to be taught, we can change how we deliver it. If we make the right adjustments to our course design and teaching methodologies, we will hear less complaining in our classes. So, what can we do to achieve higher levels of student satisfaction and long-term learning that lasts far beyond the end of our class?
At one time or another, most of us have been disappointed by the caliber of the questions students ask in class, online, or in the office. Many of them are such mundane questions: “Will material from the book be on the exam?” “How long should the paper be?” “Can we use Google to find references?” “Would you repeat what you just said? I didn’t get it all down in my notes.” Rarely do they ask thoughtful questions that probe the content and stir the interest of the teacher and other students.
With increasing stridence, college students and their parents frame their educational expectations with a consumer paradigm, viewing professors as their employees, universities as consumer markets, and degrees as commodities. As a humanities professor, I have always bristled at this equation. However, I see a way to use this metaphor for good purpose. Rather than fight this flawed mentality, I present the consumer model during one of our first class sessions and engage students in an exploration of its applicability to the educational enterprise.
There has been significant and well-deserved attention paid to the first class. This class is critical in setting the tone and expectations of the course. Unfortunately, the same amount of attention has not been paid to the last day of class. To us, this class is as important as the first. It is the class where the professor has an opportunity to celebrate the learning of the students. Unfortunately, this day is usually saved for final exam review, finishing up projects or dealing with logistical details like date, time, and location of the final or where to pick up graded term papers. The course ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
The joy of discussion as a class activity is starting it up and seeing where it goes. Although some of the same themes come up in every discussion, how they emerge and the connections they raise vary as much as the individual students do. On a great discussion day, the talk flows freely in interesting and unexpected directions, much like jazz.
In my course, the required reading is intensive and extensive. Students must read multiple texts that range across disciplines, genres, history, and culture. The goal of this interdisciplinary course is improvement of critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. My students, like many others, live complicated lives. Add to that the fact that many are not particularly good readers or people who like to read, and the result is students arriving in class not having done the reading. When that happens, the teacher becomes the best student in the room. She talks about the text while students dutifully listen—or appear to listen.
Many instructors will argue that student participation in class is important. But what’s the difference between participation and engagement? What does good participation or engagement look like? How can you recognize it? And how can you tell if a student is not engaged?
Numerous studies on humor in the classroom acknowledge the important role it plays in the learning process. Humor has been reported to increase motivation, enhance the retention of new information, advance problem-solving skills, encourage creativity and critical thinking, facilitate a positive learning environment, and decrease exam anxiety (Martin, 2007). Given its importance, I’d like to suggest several ways to energize your college classroom with humor.