As college faculty, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to talk. We want to cover the course content and thoroughly explain our assignments. We want to sound smart, share what we know, and communicate convincingly about the work of our disciplines. Our students assume we are experts, and we don’t want to disappoint them. All this amounts to teacher-centered pressure that confuses talking and teaching.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
It’s no secret that technology continues to transform the way educators teach and the way students learn. Increasingly, students want to be able to learn on their own terms–that is, they want to be able to study whenever, wherever, and however they choose, and they expect institutions and faculty to be accommodating. We’ve likely all had students who for one misguided reason or another believed that their professors—particularly those teaching online—were available around the clock to answer questions, provide feedback, and generally just be there if needed. As unrealistic as this belief is, wouldn’t it be nice if instructors could approximate being available 24/7? Well, you can—sort of—through the power of podcasting.
As instructors, promoting learning is, or at least should be, our primary task. As an online instructor, I must enforce deadlines, respond to requests for accommodations, post announcements, provide guidance and clarity, assess student performance, provide feedback, and post grades. Instructors have a variety of duties inside and outside the classroom to meet the standards required by the university, yet our primary mission should remain ensuring that students are gaining new knowledge.
Peer assessment in groups has been shown to effectively address a number of group process issues, but only if the peer assessment has a formative component. Many studies have shown that if peer assessment is used at the end of a group project, group members will punish their dysfunctional members—those who didn’t do work, didn’t turn work in on time, didn’t come to meetings, and didn’t do quality work—but they won’t confront those group members when they commit those dysfunctional behaviors. After-the-fact peer assessment gives the teacher input on who did and didn’t contribute in the group, but it doesn’t change what happened in that group or help students learn how to confront group member problems when they emerge.
In some types of assignments, it’s the process that’s more important than the product. Journals and online discussion exchanges, even homework problems, are good examples. Students are thinking and learning as they work to sort through ideas, apply content, or figure out how to solve problems. So what the student needs to get credit for is not the product, but the process. And the way most faculty make that determination is by deciding whether the student has made a good faith effort.
Engaging students in class conversation is not always an easy task. Even though we may make class participation part of their final grade, stress its importance in the syllabus, and give subtle (and not so subtle) reminders of this throughout the semester, there are always days when students simply do not want to participate in the class discussions.
Last year the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta ran a pilot study to consider the efficacy of using e-portfolios to deepen students’ learning. We were interested in developing a structure that would enable us to determine how well our students were learning Augustana’s core skill requirements (writing, speaking, critical thinking, and information literacy).
In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (The Teaching Professor March 2014), the editor notes that “some students … assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first exam serve[s] as a wake-up call.” (p. 6) In two Introductory Psychology classes (150 students), I recently implemented an effective three-step strategy for getting the best out of such students (and, indeed, all students).
I heard someone say today that he’s been teaching for 50 years and never really thought about his teaching. “I just go in there and teach—I don’t think about it.” And here I am having spent something like 45 years thinking a lot about my own teaching and that of everyone else. From my perspective, it’s hard to imagine teaching without thinking about it.