Effective Teaching Strategies
To: My Students
From: Your Teacher
Re: College and the Real World
I just read about a senior engineering student who was presenting a design project in an upper-division business communications course. In the presentation, he talked about what he would do if he were a “real” engineer. His teacher asked him what it was about what he was doing that wasn’t “real” engineering. He’d designed the project. He was presenting it to a group of his peers. He answered, “It’s school—not real engineering.”
Editor’s Note: One of the themes that emerged from our recent Faculty Focus reader survey was a request for more articles specifically related to teaching in the STEM disciplines. In response, we are pleased to present an article written by true leaders in STEM education and the authors of Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2016). As its name suggests, the book focuses on the practical application of research-based strategies for designing and teaching STEM courses. It has been called “hands-down the best instruction manual for professors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that you can find.” [Barbara Oakley, PhD]
So, the fall semester is about to begin and you’ve decided to try something new in one or more of your courses. Maybe it’s a
Classroom spaces (virtual or physical) are special. We tend to take them for granted, partly because spaces in general have become less differentiated. We don’t do certain things in specified places like we used to. We work at home, on planes, and in various public spaces. We eat in our cars and in front of the TV. We use our devices everywhere—bathrooms, bedrooms, churches, cars, elevators, street corners, and, yes, classrooms.
During semester breaks, I prepare my courses for the upcoming semester, a regular ritual for most academics. My process begins with reflecting on my formal and informal teaching evaluations and considering ways to improve the course. I add new topics and delete others. I review assignments and change them as needed. And I spend a lot of my preparation time choosing timely, thought-provoking articles to assist students in learning the course content.
Much has been written about creating natural critical learning environments in our classrooms, places where students feel free to pose stimulating questions and pursue interesting answers. But how much do we put students’ questions at the heart of our everyday teaching? The answer might be “not as much as we think.” A number of years ago I was frustrated by how seldom my students asked questions in class, even after I encouraged them to do so.
College teachers love techniques. If you’re invited to lead a teaching workshop, you can expect to be asked, “Will you share some good techniques?” Suggest them in the workshop and watch lots of smiling participants write them down with great enthusiasm. Why do we love teaching techniques so much? Because many of us come to teaching not having many? Because they work? Because they keep our teaching feeling fresh?
Right before the end of the academic year when the promise of summer stretches warmly ahead, many of us are making lists that anticipate other kinds of tasks. If you’re considering some pedagogical reading, I’ve got just the recommendation.
Most students find it difficult to think of famous historical personalities as real people. They also read texts without realizing that there are tangible personalities behind them. I have found one of the most effective ways to give flesh and blood to the past is by designing questions that ask students to bring authors, historical characters, and texts into the classroom. There are a variety of formats that these questions might take. Following are some that I’ve used and other examples that might trigger queries you could adapt for your courses.